Should You Be Content With Singleness?

One of the things I used to hear all the time when I was a in my twenties and single was the idea that I needed to be “content” with my singleness.

Now there were at least two origins that this thought came from.  Some were espousing this advice because, “it’s when you’re not looking that you find someone”.  In other words if you were content and not striving to get married, you would be more likely to find someone to marry.  Just typing that makes me laugh.

I addressed this particular angle long ago but let me just touch on it here.  If you are actually content in your singleness, meaning that you do not have the desire to marry, and/or feel that God has called you to celibacy for the kingdom, and/or you don’t desire sex then there would be no reason to get married.  This is an actual viable vocational path within the kingdom.

But if you want to be married and don’t feel called to celibacy for the kingdom, then you are either sort of feigning contentment or at the least simply trying to be content for a different motive.  The other reality here is that if you are over 24 years old or so, chances are that you are going to have to make and effort find someone to marry.  It’s not going to just happen.  That’s not how it works.

I also think that this can lull people asleep in the sense that it’s ok to be content being single for now.  This actually could be necessary for a time.  For example you may need to be focused on a short term mission or for schooling.  But even then, your desire at the end of the day is to be married.  Putting something off is not the same as being content without it.

The second reason people pull out the content with your singleness line is that they think that they are referring to what Paul says in Philippians 4.  The basic message from many well meaning believers is something to the effect of, “Hey Brother, this is where the Lord has you right now, so you need to be content with that, and trust Him.”  That sounds really holy.  The problem is that’s not what Paul says.

Let’s look at it.  Paul is closing out his letter to the Philippians.  In the preceding verses, he asks them to not be anxious about anything, but instead, pray about everything, make requests to God and He will meet you in it.  He then encourages them to focus on the things of God and do the things that he’s taught.

He then thanks them for being concerned for him in his current hard circumstances.  In verse 10-13 he writes,

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

What Paul says is that he can be content in any situation.  What he does not say is that he will be content with any situation.  There is a huge difference between those two things.

Paul is constantly urging change.  He implores people to action constantly.  He is continually advancing the kingdom.

Look at it this way.  If you are being abused should you be content with that situation?  If you are broke and jobless are to be content with that situation?  If you are overweight are you to be content with that situation? Would you say, “God has me overweight right now. If God wants me to lose weight I will, for now I’ll have to be content with it”.

What I understand Paul to be saying is this, no matter what situation you are in God is with you.  I can be content overall because at the end of the day, I have Jesus.  I know how this all ends.  I am content in Him.  It is because of this – that I can do all things through Him.  I can survive a current tough circumstance, for my entire temporal life if necessary, but I could also grow, change, act, heal, and advance, through Him.

Think about your current spiritual condition. God loves you right where you are.  But he doesn’t leave us where we are.  Through whatever circumstances or context, He is pulling (often dragging) us towards holiness and sanctification.

Let’s bring this full circle back to singleness.

It is good not to be anxious about your singleness.  That doesn’t do us any good and in fact is harmful on many levels, not the least of which it can make us desperate.

It is good to be content in Jesus in the circumstance of singleness.  Singleness (or any other context or circumstance) does not define us – Jesus does.

It is ok, to not be content with singleness.  In fact not being content with it is part of what drives us to actually work to get married.

Is Situational Singleness A Gift?

One of the things that I’ve read on occasion and heard in conversations as well as from the pulpit, is the way to know if you have the gift of singleness is if you are single right now, then you’ve got it.

Now, in some evangelical circles, there is of course debate on whether singleness is a gift or even a calling at all.  But I’m going to go ahead and side with 2000 years of Church history along with a straight reading of the scriptures and say that it is.

Here is the general idea of what these folks are selling.  The basic idea is of course that God is sovereign and therefore whatever context you find yourself in is the one that God is “gifting” you with right now.  If you are unmarried then right now you have the gift of singleness.  Married?  Then right now you have the gift of marriage.  Both are gifts.  All contexts we find ourselves in are gifts.

But in our current culture this idea is fraught with problems.

First of all, we don’t do this with other contexts of our lives.  For example.  Let’s say that you don’t have a job.  One might say, “God will bring you a job” or “God will show you how to get a job”.  We might even say, “take whatever job you can to provide for your needs but look for what God is calling you to do.”  What we don’t do however is say, “sit around and in the right time God will bring you a job.”  I’ve never heard anyone preach about the “Gift of Joblessness” simply because you don’t have one.  “God is gifting you with joblessness right now.”  Yeah no.  Do you have the gift of being thousands of dollars in debt because that’s your financial context?

This also flies in the face of what Paul says, (What is amazing is that they will quote Paul while teaching exactly what he doesn’t say – it’s confounding).  What Paul says is that if you are single and not content – go get married.

One of the big results of this sort of teaching is a bunch of Christians sitting around waiting for their spouse that God has for them or their Christian soulmate.  This creates all sorts of issues which we’ve discussed ad nauseam here.  The worst might be that it turns God into the Great Withholder and puts all the blame for our rise in singleness on Him.

Now we can be content in Jesus no matter what our circumstances.  And every day is indeed a gift from God.  But not everything that happens is a gift from God – although He can use it all.  In fact if we are content in Jesus, frankly that should make us discontent with our context at some level.  If for no other reason than I should at least be discontent with my sin.

Which brings us to the next problem.  It doesn’t take into account sin.  If you are single and sleeping with someone, or a lot of someones, do you have the gift of singleness right now?  If you are living with someone do you have the gift?  If you are divorced do you have the gift?

Whatever else Paul is implying he is not saying, “stay single and date around if you are called to singleness” or “remain single and irresponsible for as long as you can”.  He is in no way talking about the space of extended singleness we have created in our culture. That season did not exist in Paul’s world.  Certainly not as long of one.

We need to understand that in the secular vernacular anyone who is not married is single. And the Church has played right into this.  Rather than lead, we’ve surrendered the terms. Biblically speaking there are those who are celibate via one of three ways, those that are divorced, those that are widowed, and those that are not yet married.  Those are all completely different contexts with completely different instructions.  It would probably be better if the word single was never spoken from the pulpit again.

We need to rescue the call of celibacy for the Kingdom that Paul and Jesus are actually talking about from the contexts of our culture that frankly the church has helped create. We need to help people follow their actual calling.  We need to stop demanding everyone get married while at the same time telling them that God has them gifted as single “for now” which makes no sense whatsoever.  Downgrading the gift/calling of celibacy into a situational gift is hurting both those who are called to it and those who aren’t.

I realize that if you are currently not married, none of this helps you with the actual question of do you have the gift/calling of celibacy.  I plan to write a post soon with some help on that question.  But I want you to hear this:  Your circumstances do not define you or your gifting.

Top Reasons “While You’re Still Single” Lists Are Bad

So I recently read an article about “enjoying your singleness”.  It was basically a list of all the things you should do while you’re “still” single.  Many articles have been written about this.  “7 Things To Do While You’re Still Single.”  “10 Great Things About Being Single”  “6 Things To Do Until You Meet The One”  “10 Ways Take Advantage Of Your Singleness”  “What To Do In Your Season Of Singleness”.  “Blah, Blah Blah.”

There is so much wrong with this mentality and we have to, HAVE TO, change it.

Where to begin?  Staying in the spirit – here is a list.

1. These lists assume that your singleness is temporary.  Usually very temporary.  The idea is that you will for sure get married soon – so soak up all singleness has to offer now. Don’t worry, it will happen, but don’t miss all the great stuff you can have as a single.  Yeah, I’d say about age 28-29 I was pretty ready to miss all that stuff.

2. Often times these list come off pretty self centered.  Basically the message is go out there and be about you because once your married it’s not all about you.  Here’s the deal, it’s not all about you now.  It never was and never will be.  This is not “your time”.  It’s God’s – every time.

3. If it’s so great and there are all of these great ways to live single (and if marriage is so hard) then why in the world get married?  And we wonder why people are waiting forever.

4. The funny part is that a lot of these list are made up of things that for the most part are not really about taking advantage of singleness.  They are about engaging life.

Some things commonly on the list –

  • Travel – see the world – yes this is much more fun alone than with a spouse.  Um no
  • Save money – long run this is not even remotely true – and to top it off, 50% of single people live alone – so they aren’t even saving on that.
  • Do more ministry – yes because all the people who do ministry are single – oh wait. .
  • Hang out with friends – yes because we all know that once you get married you are required to drop your friends.  I mean all my friends that got married dropped me – oh wait, no they didn’t.  Yikes.
  • Spend more time with God – this is just terrible.  Yes there is a calling to celibacy that some have in which they have a different sort of vow with God.  But this is not true for the “not yet married” or the singleness that these authors are talking about.  In fact I would say that wanting a spouse can be more distracting than having one.  Let me promise you this – I have not prayed less since becoming married.  If we are honest, no matter what our context we need to be in constant relation with God.  If being married means being further from God then God would not have instituted it before sin.

Look – all of these things are good.  But they aren’t good to do because you are single. They are good to do period.  You should engage God, others, your friends, your job, and for sure if you’re married your wife, your kids.  I get it, it looks different married than single. But you know what it looks different in all sorts of different seasons.  There are always transitions and movements.  Situations evolve and change – jobs, moves, kids, deaths. Not just single vs. married.

5. On another note, none of these list deal with why you are single (A better list might be – “10 Things To Help You Get Un-single”).  They don’t deal with what you might be doing wrong, what might be holding you back, what fears you might need to face, what wounds you might need to seek healing for, what sin you might need to repent of, or even if you should consider if you might be called to celibacy.

It assumes that you don’t need to do anything.  Just kick back and enjoy this “season” until God brings you The One.  The whole this is where God has you right now mantra.  Look, it may be where He has you.  It may also be a combination of 100 other things.

Here is my encouragement to you friends.  Single folks – don’t do any of the things on the list because you’re single.  Do them because they are right and good.  Don’t do them thinking this will help you when you get married.  Don’t save money so that you’ll have more for marriage – save money because it’s smart – married or single.  Don’t engage friends thinking you won’t get to later – engage them because it’s healthy to do so.

Whatever you do, don’t delay marriage just to do these things thinking that you’ll miss out on something you could do single.  That will always be true.  There will always be sacrifice. But you know what, staying single means missing out on stuff too.  There could just as easily be a list “10 things you’ll miss if you get married after 30”.

It’s time to drop the handy dandy platitude lists attempting to soothe our hurt and justify our context.  Dive into life from wherever you’re at.  Jesus said He came to bring life to the full. Engage it – single or married.