Suffering In Singleness

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the idea of suffering.  This has not been brought on because of personal suffering.  I am in a season right now where I don’t feel a lot personal suffering.  But I have had many seasons where I have.  This was especially true when I was single.

What has brought on these thoughts is that I have friends who have suffered and I’ve seen a lot of confusion in the singleness arena about the idea of suffering.  For example there is the idea that celibacy is too great a cross to bear.  That it is unfair that we are asking those who are not called to Celibacy for the Kingdom to suffer.  The idea that it is unfair to ask those who are unmarried and wish to be or those that are celibate due to the fall of man, to remain celibate is to ask them to suffer unfairly.

I want to offer a few thoughts here about suffering in general and then bring it back to singleness.

First of all, we all suffer in one form or another in one season or another.  I know almost no one who has never suffered.  To be sure, some people have it harder than others.  Some suffer physically.  Some emotionally.  Some spiritually.  But we all suffer.  It is a part of life.

It’s important to realize this.  Because of the fall we live in a broken world. Because the world is broken there is disease and death and everything that goes with it. We all suffer.  Sometimes we suffer because of others.  Sometimes we suffer at our own hands.  Our decisions cause suffering for ourselves and we even cause suffering for others.  This is a part of life.

Naturally we do all we can to avoid suffering.  This is usually ok although sometimes we should choose short term suffering for long term growth.  But as I heard a wise priest say, we should not generally go looking for suffering – it will find us.

But there are times to choose suffering.  If God is calling me to do something, then I should do it, regardless of the suffering it costs. Obedience to God can often cause me to suffer.  But God will honor that.  In fact He promises that He will.  Suffering is never a reason to not obey God.

Of course it is obvious that Jesus suffered.  His death is the ultimate injustice.  He is the one sinless person, the most innocent, suffering the greatest amount.  And He chose it out of obedience.

So what are we to do with suffering.

First, we don’t go looking to suffer.  However if we know that we will suffer, we can in a way choose our suffering.  Being disobedient to God always creates suffering.  It creates suffering for ourselves (at least in the long term) and for others.  So we should choose obedience even if it causes us suffering.  This is because in the long term (eternity) we will decrease both our suffering and the suffering of others by that choice.

Second we can offer our suffering and align it with His.  If we endure with Him, we will also reign with Him.  If we suffer with Him we will be glorified with Him.  If we suffer for doing what is right, we are blessed.

In the midst of this, we don’t seek to alleviate our suffering with sin.  That is never the answer.  To choose to alleviate our suffering by disobeying God we are denying Him.  That just leads to more suffering for us and others.

We should not listen to false teachers who promise us a faith without suffering.  We should not offer others that are suffering false hopes or spiritual platitudes.  Nor should we accept them as a way for us to suffer less.

We should engage Jesus and invite Him into our suffering.  We should seek Him and His comfort in the midst of it.  We can know that He sees it.  He is not absent.  We can be real with Him.  We can share with Him our anguish.  We can lean into Him and onto Him for strength that only He can give.  Really only through Him can we suffer well.

When it comes to singleness both those of us who are single and those who aren’t should recognize some truths.

Prolonged singleness when we are not called to celibacy for the Kingdom is a form of suffering.  We should recognize that and not try to sugar coat it.  We don’t need to offer or accept spiritual platitudes about singleness as answers to the hurt.  That only makes it worse, even if it makes us feel better.

For those who have to be celibate because of the fall, we should avoid two big mistakes we often make.  We should not teach or accept that this is not suffering.  That ignores the obvious real life pain.  On the other hand we should not suggest that it is too big of cross to bear and accept sin as the answer.  That, as we said earlier, only leads to more suffering.  It should not be our goal to alleviate suffering with sin.  Never should we teach that, in any form.

For those of you who are suffering now in singleness, be it because of unfulfilled longing, sinful longing or any other unfulfilled desire, may God be with you.  May you stand firm.  Realize that suffering is a part of life.  Face it.  Step into with Jesus.  To embrace it and move through it is part of sanctification.  Don’t dwell on it but don’t brush it off with spiritual platitudes offered by really bad guides.  Offer it to Jesus.  Unite it with Him.   I respect your courage.  God will honor it.  He honors it now.  For those choosing to suffer because of obedience to God I pray for strength to finish the race.  God sees you.

7 thoughts on “Suffering In Singleness

  1. Celibacy can be painful. And my involuntary hermit lifestyle from chronic illness makes it worse for me right now.

    But when I see how SOME marriages are–even in church–I realize things could be much worse.

    (And mere unhappiness is not enough to leave a marriage either according to Scripture. Divorce should be viewed as an extreme remedy like amputating a limb or chemo in medicine.)

    Nobody is as happy as they look. Envy is not just sinful but futile.

    • I was right with you until you deemed me sinful. judge not lest…Also am sorry about your isolation and chronic illness. As a result, you may perhaps not ever allow yourself to complain so it might be hard for you to tolerate what you perceive as complaining from others. But some complaints are valid. And lamenting is okay. (Check out the psalms). I complain when it’s valid. I lament on occasion. But I don’t lie when I say my current church is a weekly marriage/family love fest. I know that marriage isn’t often a rose garden, but my church hasn’t gotten that clue yet (in its desperation to attract more and more young families to grow the roster). However not all souls belong to families. Some of us single sheep are worth a pastoral nod now and then (especially the sick and lonely). I’m grateful to Justin for this post which prompted my “occasional and valid” complaint. Sorry it rubbed you the wrong way. But the church should be the one sanctuary where all can find peace, not the worst offender rubbing salt into the wounded. Maybe it’s worth my seeking a newer, toned-down church. Peace and blessings to you.

      • I complain all the time actually.

        Sorry if my comment about “envy” was unjust. I was applying it to myself as much as anyone.

        I heartily agree church should not be so lonely. Changing church homes helped me. May God guide you to a new place.

  2. There is one thing that I know would make my suffering bearable. And that is for the Church everywhere to loudly proclaim that there’s no marriage in heaven, that earthly marriage is temporary, that it’s not the be all and end all, and that it will be eclipsed by something so much more wonderful that no one would ever want to be stuck in heaven with only their mere earthly marriage to speak of. But we never hear any of that. All we hear about is the joy of marriage and family and how the family is the only problem worth our help, and how won’t it be great when we’re all united in heaven as families together again. Yeah, except for those of us who never got to establish marriage and family and therefore fear being “other-ed” not just down here but marginalized for all eternity. Such a simple solution to alleviate the emotional and spiritual suffering of lifelong singles—just to simply acknowledge that marriage isn’t forever, that “exclusivity” of earthly families will end. But the Church will have none of it, too busy enjoying the marriage and family love-fest to the hilt.

    • Mainstream churches are becoming more like the LSD every day. And Islam too.

      We Christian singles will not be marginalized for eternity. God is the One calling the shots. In fact we may have a head start on Heaven because we are already neither married nor given in marriage. Setting our hopes of immortality on the promise of the Resurrection. Not earthly offspring.

      If marriage is automatic heavenly bliss why is divorce such a problem in the church? Could it be a consequence of idolizing eros and leaving when the earthly spouse fails to provide the heaven that romance novels and Hollywood (but NOT the Bible) promised?

      John Piper and a very few others have touched on the fact that Heaven will outweigh the best possible earthly marriage and singles won’t be excluded. But few preachers–popular or otherwise–acknowledge this.

  3. I am another forced to wander the wilderness forever.

    I’m a man, and single too, and thus receive nothing but contempt and disgust from the church for my gender and marital status. Pastors love to heap scorn on men, especially single ones, so they can be heroes to their female congregations and the only real men in the room while they undermine even the married men in front of their wives and children.

    I finally gave up seeking a church home. I even tried emailing in advance to get a feel for how mature single men are “welcomed.” After five or six emails, not one response. Not. One. Gee, thanks church!

    I hope God has a spot for me away from everyone else in Heaven, since I’m obviously not welcome among His people.

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