You Are Not Called To “Singleness”

As I got older and remained unmarried, one of the questions that more and more people asked me is if I felt like I was “called” to be single or if I had the “gift” of singleness.  I have had different times in my life where I’ve considered and prayed about that.  This is one of the areas we just don’t talk enough about in the Church.

Now, I’ve already talked a lot on here about the gift of singleness, taking advantage of singleness, and about 100 spiritual platitudes on singleness.  Lately I’ve been talking more about the idea that we as a Church must have a theology of singleness.  But the question becomes what does that mean.  It has to start with what we talked about last week and focusing on Jesus and His family first.  It has to.  Without that, nothing else will fit.

The next thing we have to do is begin to rescue what we mean when we say “called to singleness”.

Singleness, is not a good category in general.  It’s way too big if by single we mean unmarried.  We need to understand that there are many, many different people who are unmarried.  There are never married, divorced and widowed.  You are not called to be “single” in the way we talk about it today.  You may be divorced and unable to remarry, widowed and choose not to remarry or called to celibacy for the kingdom.

Neither Jesus nor Paul are talking about being called to a lifetime of dating.  They are not talking about being called to be unmarried because you can’t make a commitment to another person or don’t know how to get a date.  They are not talking about a call to a lifetime of selfishness and self focus.  It is not a call to be alone.  They are also not talking about some sort of gift where you never have sexual desires.  You are not called to a lifetime of trying to get married.  You are for sure not called to a lifetime of adolescence.

What Jesus and Paul are talking about is the call to or gift of celibacy.  We have completely ignored this in the Protestant church and mostly only focused on the full time ministry part of it in the Catholic church.

The call to a celibate life is not a call away from marriage.   It is a call to something.   It is a call to serve God from an unmarried context. You might look at it like this.  There is a first vow we make to God.  This is first and most important – our response to the gift of salvation and committing our life to Jesus.  But then we make a second vow.  We either make this vow to God to live a celibate lifestyle and follow and serve Jesus from that spot, or a vow  to another person with God and therefore get married and follow and serve Jesus from that spot.

Both of these are a calling and we have the choice to either obey and follow it or not.  They are both good and honorable in the kingdom.

So when we ask someone if they are called to singleness what we really need to ask is are they called to celibacy for the kingdom.

This does not mean by the way that because you are not called to celibacy and not yet married that you are somehow sinning (although you might be).  What it means is that we need this question to be our starting point.

The problem with our current state of affairs if that we have lost this whole thought process. We need to have a good theology of celibacy and marriage.  We need a good understanding of both so that we can freely seek our particular calling.  I think that in general the Church does a good job of talking about what marriage is.  However they do a terrible job talking about celibacy.  Most don’t even acknowledge it beyond a sentence or two here and there. They typically don’t help us pursue either one.

The reality is we are either called to celibacy or marriage.  We need to determine that and then pursue it (with Jesus of course).  We are not called to sit back and see which one “happens”.  

When you think about the call to singleness – what does that mean to you?  Have you considered that call?  Would you be open to either call?

For more reading on celibacy I’d refer you to what John Morgan has written on the gift of celibacy here.  It is easily the best thing I’ve found on the subject so far and it sheds a lot of light on what I’m talking about above.  I’d encourage you to read it. It is more in depth but very clear.

Marriage Is For Grown Ups

So as a single guy, I’ve definitely watched too much late night television.  Every now and then after I’ve had enough Sportscenter, I’ll flip through the informercials.  Now I’ve only ordered two or three things ever (NuWave Oven – greatest thing ever –  Ab Roller, not so much). But one of the latest trends is just incredible to me.

This is the anti-aging movement.  We’ve got Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty (she really does still look the same – weird), Victoria Principal who is now 63 years old and has been doing “anti-aging” for what seems like forever and the latest I saw is “Julie is 53, but looks 35”.  We also have all the men’s versions.  You can get drugs to make your hair grow back, your sex drive go up (watch out for that four hour erection) and apparently get all your old energy back.

Here’s the reality.  We live in a culture that worships youth and it is confusing singles and killing marriage.

Marriage you see, is for grown ups.  Everyone knows this, which is why no one is getting married. . . . because they don’t want to grow up.

In 1970 69% of 25 year old white men were married.  In 2000 33% were.  In 2010 only 20% of all adults aged 18-29 have ever been married.  A huge part of the reason is that we keep moving the bar of what it means to be an adult.  Several studies now say that adolescence goes all the way up to 26 years old. It used to be adolescence ended at 18 and you’d have reached most of your adult milestones by 25.  Forty years ago you would have been done with your education, had a job, been married and probably had a kid. Now it’s a free for all.

Human brain development has not changed, human social development has.  

Humanity has always wanted to live forever and the natural outtake of that is that the younger I can look, feel and act, the better off I’ll be.  As a society, and to some extent as the church, we’ve embraced it all.  “Get your masters,” “Follow your dreams”, “join this short term program right after college – you know before you have to get a real job” “see the world” etc.  We have over nurturing parents that don’t want their kids to grow up. Even churches and ministry organizations have fallen into this trap.  We have youth group, then college group, then young peoples group.  Where’s the grown up group?  But I digress.

The point here is that one of the huge reasons that we have more single people than ever before is that we have more immature people than ever before.  I’m sorry if that hurts.  It’s hurts me.  But if we’re honest it’s just true.  We can get away with it so we do.  This is especially true with guys.

Adolescence and singleness are not the same thing.  But by extending adolescence we are making it harder to distinguish.  Marriage is seen as something I can do later, when I grow up – if I grow up.

This is bad for everybody.  So what do we do?

The Church must go after the unmarried.  If the church isn’t going to do this, then we are in serious, serious trouble.  I mean big time.  Here’s what the church used to do. They’d lose all the early 20 something men, but they’d get them back because when they got married and had kids they remembered that they used to go to church.  But now they aren’t getting married and they aren’t coming back.  We HAVE to address this.  According to Barna 37% of the “unchurched” are single/never married and 55% are men.  Do the math.  If our plan is, “they’ll be back when they are married” we are in serious trouble.

Second, we as singles have got to grow ourselves up.  We have to fight against the temptation to act like an adolescent.  We need to move out of our parents houses, take real jobs (even if it is a starter job), quit playing video games and looking at porn, and figure out what it means to make a vow to another person, be it the vow of marriage or the vow of celibacy.  We need to start facing our sin and woundedness. Community will be required for any of this to happen so we’ll have to actually engage others.

If we don’t it’s not going to matter whether or not you get married because you will either be a completely narcissistic single person or a terrible spouse.  We are not called to be either of those.

The good news is that grown up is good.  Facing our stuff is hard but freeing.  Getting older should mean getting better.  That’s the thing about each step of maturity.  It is harder but better.  That is what growth is.

So are you a grown up?  What areas of your life do you still feel like an adolescent?  What area of your life can you get away with because you are single?

Are You Ready To Get Married?

My parents got married at 26.  This was actually at the time (1970) fairly old to get married. My mom told me once that she didn’t feel most people should get married much younger than that because you change so much in your early twenties. Apparently our society now totally agrees.

In the mid sixties nearly 60% of adults aged 18-29 were married.  That number is now 20% and dropping.  That is an insane change.  Now there are a lot of reasons for this.  And there are a lot of implications as well.  I’ve said some about that before and will say more later but for today I want to focus on a different question.  When are you ready to get married?

I’ve heard the “ready” comment a lot in my years of singleness.  Some people use it as an excuse to deal with their commitment issues. “I’m just not ready to get married.”  Now I think that it is indeed good to not get married if you don’t want to.  What isn’t so good is dating a bunch of people and then never being able to be committed to them.  Really if you aren’t ready – should you be in long term relationships as an adult?

This leads us to yet another very relevant question.  What is an adult?  Apparently in 1960 it was 18.  But these days there are people that say you’re an adolescent until 26.  Which seems to back up my mom’s thoughts.  But 26?  Really?!

The world has definitely changed in many, many ways.  Some for the better and others not, but I really believe in this context it leads to a lot of confusion.  For one thing we are asking Christian guys to basically forgo sex during their prime sex years (not that guys don’t pretty much always desire sex).  Hey 15 year old kid, “don’t worry, only 11-15 more years to go.  Good luck.”

Should you get married for sex?  Well maybe.  Not just for that obviously, but I think it’s an underrated reason.

There are all sorts of arguments here.  There are indeed statistics that say the older you get married the less likely you are to get divorced and I can see that.  You hopefully know more of who you are as a person etc.  But that assumes you are actually working on that and not just extending adolescence.

And let’s be honest the older you get the smaller pools you “fish” in.  That’s reality.  And if you aren’t dating just to date then how do you stay sharp with your dating skills which you actually sort of need to get married?

There are advantages to getting married earlier.  For one thing you get to be married longer.  You get to start out in life together. But the truth of the matter is that in our culture most 18-23 year olds are generally not as “ready” to be committed.  That is more society’s fault than theirs by the way.

So how do we know if we are “ready”?

Here’s truth one: In some ways you are never really “ready”.  There probably isn’t going to be that magical moment when you are perfectly ready.  And really you can’t know what marriage is like without actually being married.  We can, and should know what marriage is – a covenant with God and this other person for life, but that is not the same as being ready.

But that said, here are some things I think are helpful in terms of readiness.

First, do you see yourself as an adult?  Marriage does not make you adult, it makes you married.  This is important in many ways and probably deserves it’s own post.  But my point is it’s helpful to see yourself as an adult if you are going to be married.  (For free, it’s good to be an adult.  If you are in your mid twenties and you don’t see yourself as an adult – now would be the time).

Second, as a guy, I think you need to know what the heck you are about.  What direction do you see your life going?  It’s going to go a lot better if when you ask someone to go with you, you were actually going somewhere.  I have a friend who onetime told me, that guys should think Master, Mission, Mate, in that order.  In other words, know God, know what you are about, invite someone into that with you.

Finally, and this might actually be most important.  No matter what age you are, in my opinion, if you find the person you want to marry, make it happen.  This assumes they love the Lord etc. but part of being ready to be married has to do with having someone to marry.

I’d love some responses here.  When do you think people should start to think about marriage?  How do you know you are ready?  Are you ready?  What would it take to get ready?

Are You An Adult?

When I was 25 years old I was the director of a ministry.  One day I was driving with our committee chairman who was in his 50’s.  He was a mentor and was becoming a father figure to me.  We were calling on some donors together and as we drove along the subject switched to some of the decisions we needed to make.

This man turned to me and got serious.  He basically said, “You are the Director.  You know what to do.  It’s your job to tell me what to do and I’ll help make it happen.  You understand this work better than me.  You are the Director – you’re not a kid – I see you as our director.  You decide and we’ll make it happen.”

Now this was incredible are several counts not the least of which is the fact that this guy was a CEO of a major company.  But basically what he was saying was you are not a kid, you’re a man – decide.

One of the big problems in our culture, and the growth of singleness is both a cause and a result, is that we keep extending adolescence.  The latest studies now say that adolescence starts around 10 or 11 and goes to 26.  Really?!  26?!  Why not 30?  Here’s the deal – we worship youth and we want to live there forever.  And youth don’t get married.

This plays out in all sorts of bad ways.  Just to name a few: the 18 year old body is the example of beauty (and more and more the male body as well); we are able to go to school for seemingly forever – almost never on our own dime; we switch jobs all the time in our 20’s (gone are the days of earning your way up the ladder); we continue to “go out” and “party” because after all we are only young once.  When does young end exactly?  Apparently our job is to do everything we can to not end it.  I mean who would want to grow up?

While this can be a huge problem in marriage (and I mean huge), and just because you are married doesn’t make you mature (although somehow the church seems to think so within it’s mentoring programs – quick name the last time a single person was a mentor for a married person – more on that later), it is a recurring theme for single people.  There are people essentially using their singleness to extend their adolescence.  Other than MAYBE having a job, they are basically still living the same lifestyle, dating the same way, making the same decisions, playing the same video games, and thinking at the same level as they were at age 21.  That’s not going to work at age 30 – at least it shouldn’t.

Here’s a question – and I mean you really need to think about this – Do you see yourself as a grown up?  Seriously what is your answer to that?  I’m not trying to be harsh so don’t hear the question that way.  Take a deep breath. Hear me quietly and calmly asking you, “Do you see yourself as an adult?”

How you answer that affects everything.  Everything.