Is Your Singleness Selfish?

One of the things that used to bother me the most in my over 20 years of singleness was when people who were married would tell me things like, “Enjoy your singleness while you have it”, or “Take advantage of where you are at”, or “Enjoy the freedom you have bro.”

Now at some level there can be some wisdom here.  We should focus on living fully in the context we are in.  It doesn’t do us much good to have marriage as an idol and constantly be thinking that my whole world would be perfect if I just met the right person.  I get that.

But I think at this point it might be fair to say that in our context today, we might be taking a bit too much advantage of our singleness.  We might be too focussed on our “freedom” at times.  It’s not like everyone is launching into early marriage.  In fact almost no one is.  So maybe we should ask some different questions.

First of all, we need to get over the fact that life is hard.  Yes married people, I get it, marriage is hard.  But we need to be really, really careful with that because in our culture we seem to be equating hard with bad.  But in the Kingdom hard and bad are not synonyms.  Hard and Joy are not opposites.  And besides, singleness can be pretty dang hard too.  Life is hard sometimes.  And sometimes it isn’t.

So one trap we need to avoid is setting marriage up as this great loss.  Like somehow if you get married your personal life is over.  That’s a lie.  It’s different yes, but not over.

But there are even more traps here.

The idea of taking advantage of your “freedom” or living it up before you settle down is extremely dangerous spiritually.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that getting married made them realize how selfish they are. I have no doubt about that.  I’ve had a few other friends tell me that they really realized how selfish they were when they had kids.  I for sure can see that.

But they were selfish the whole time.  They just didn’t realize it.  What if as a single person we went ahead and started working on this now?

Look, if everyone was still getting married when they were in the early twenties, maybe marriage would be a good time to realize you’re selfish.  But sense only 20% of people in their twenties are married, maybe we’d better not wait for marriage to realize it.

We have a more self-absorbed world than ever.  It’s so much easier to get away with it. Do you know that 50% of single people live by themselves?  Think about that.  We go where we want.  We eat what we want. We spend money on what we want, when we want, without anyone knowing about it.  If you’re single right now, name one person who knows your income to debt ratio.  

And the world encourages it.  Go get yours first.  You’re somehow not ready to be married until you’ve got your career where you want it or all your issues worked out.  Live it up, then get married.  What kind of plan is that? A plan to stay single – or have a rough marriage.

We say this spiritually too when we misinterpret scripture to mean that when your single you are more able to focus on God than if you are married?  Really?!  That is not what it says.  If that were true then literally no one should get married.  It’s not do great ministry while you can, before you get married.

This line of thinking also starts to bleed over into keeping us single when we shouldn’t be. Hear me clearly here.  Just because you are single doesn’t mean you being selfish.  But there are a huge number of people that are single in large part because they are living and/or dating selfishly.  

What would it take for us to get married? Well we need to meet the person who looks how we want, acts how we want, makes the money we want them too or in other words, “the one who meets all my expectations and needs”.  Friends, that person DOES NOT EXIST. Am I saying settle for anyone?  Heaven’s no.  But what I am saying is that the vows of marriage are not self centered.  We don’t stand up front at the wedding and talk about what we expect to receive.  We promise what we will give – until death.

Here’s the reality, neither singleness or marriage is about me.  Life is not about you.  It’s about God and the Kingdom.  

Our culture has crafted out a time of singleness for most people.  We are not called to spend that time being about ourselves or “taking advantage of our personal freedom”.  Instead we are called to deal with our sin and advance the kingdom.  Married or single we are called to crucify our flesh.  Jesus says “whoever loses his life will find it”.  There aren’t any parameters on that.  Not marriage, not a certain age, not after certain career goals are met.  Now!

If we get married it’s not so that I can get my needs perfectly met through a spouse.  It’s so we can follow God together.  If I have kids, they aren’t mine, they’re for me to shepherd and do my best to point towards God.  And if we are single, it’s not “our time”.  It’s God’s. In other words, start dealing with your selfishness now.

Is your singleness all about you?  Where is selfishness keeping you single?  Is anyone in your life besides you?  When is the last time you made a decision based on what was best for someone else?

You Are Not Called To Be Alone

One of the great struggles of singleness is the feeling that you are alone.  Now I know that even if you are married you can still feel that way, but it is almost a guarantee that if you are single for any length of time you will feel it.

It can be made even harder by the fact that we live in a culture that has become more and more individualized.  Not all of that is bad, we have more freedom to move different places, explore different options and take different opportunities.  But there are a lot of unintended consequences.  One of those is that we end up switching friends all the time and not really going deep.  And this can lead to feeling alone or to for all intents and purposes, actually being alone.

We end up not really knowing how to have real community.  But we need it, whether we are single or married.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and then says, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  You see God was not alone.  He has always been in perfect relationship as the Father, Son, and Spirit.  And He created us in His image, which makes us relational beings.  It is critical that we get this.

In our world we are told that it is all about the individual.  It is all about you, making your way and doing what you need to do.  It is about self advancement.  Even in the Church it can become about my relationship with God, my ministry, my spiritual growth.  Now there is truth in that.  You and I have an individual role to play in the story – but heres the key – we are not THE story.

I think one of the many reasons we have more single people than ever in history is that we are more alone to begin with.  We get used to operating on our own and going after the stuff that helps mainly us.  We are not used to working stuff out in community, let alone with another person that I have to be with every single day.  It’s hard work and even though we are made for it, we are resistant and we’ve been trained to be.

It’s gotten to the point where it is just kind of accepted.  “I’m on my own.”  But you are not supposed to be.  Even if you are called to celibacy (to be single and not marry), you are not called to be alone.

People who are truly called to celibacy typically get this.  Priests and nuns are typically less alone than us.  Throughout time, they’ve typically lived in community.  They get that the call to celibacy is not a call to aloneness.  (By the way I learned more about the call to celibacy and marriage and the difference in about an hour sharing a panel with a priest and nun than I have in 20+ years of being in the protestant church – but I digress.)

The point here is that we are not created to be loners.  My pastor spoke on this last week and he brought it perfectly at the end.  He said, “What if you didn’t have to navigate your marriage alone.  What if you didn’t have to navigate your singleness alone?  Or your parenting? Or your career? Or your wounds? Or your success?”  Exactly!

We need people in our lives who know us.  People who know our story – both where we’ve been and where we are trying to go.  Yes I’m talking about accountability, but more than that.  Yes I’m talking about meeting together, and sharing together, but more than that.

Marriage is not the only covenant relationship available to us.  If you get married it is the number one covenant relationship in your life (behind Jesus) but it doesn’t have to be the only one.  It’s all over scripture.  Look at the early church.  Look at Aaron and Moses or Jonathan and David.

But it takes work and more importantly it means making a decision to be in it no matter what.  This kind of community doesn’t “just happen”.  If it can “just happen” then it can just as easily “unhappen”.  That doesn’t create security, trust and unity.

I think one of the huge traps as a single person is that we can, over time, become more and more independent, to the point that we are actually alone.  And alone is bad.  We are not meant to carry our burdens, sins, decisions, fears, dreams, and celebrations alone.  If we are indeed called to be married we will be way more prepared if we have real community that we have had to work at.  If we are called to celibacy then it is just as critical so that we don’t become isolated.

Do you have real community?  Who knows your dreams, fears, sins, successes?  Who knows your heart?  Whose heart do you know?  Are you single, or are you alone?

Frozen Masculinity

My sophomore year I played varsity basketball.  I didn’t typically start but I played (a lot) on a team made up of 7 seniors and 3 Juniors.  I was the future.  But my junior year, while I was a better athlete, I was a worse player.  It was hard to describe.  It was like I was out there but I couldn’t fully engage.  I was kind of frozen.  There were many different reasons. I broke my thumb, we switched coaches and systems etc, but really, I was just off.  It was like I wanted it so bad that I couldn’t get it.  I was a starter, but honestly I shouldn’t have been.

One day after a particularly bad game my dad pulled me into his office.  We had a man to man.  He said, “Look, you’ve probably lost your starting job.  I wouldn’t start you.  You’ve got to turn it loose.  Somehow you’ve got to find some reckless abandon.  Sometimes you just have to say F it and go.”  My dad never cussed.  It’s maybe the best advice he’s ever given me.

That night I did start.  I also played freer.  I finished the last few games a little better and then had a good senior year.

Here’s what crazy.  The same thing happened to me in dating.  As a kid I had no game. But when I got to college I suddenly had dates.  I gained confidence and I was fearless.  I’d ask out a person in a store, the waitress, whoever, and they’d say yes.  But then some stuff changed. I had a long relationship that rightly ended but it was then that I knew I needed to date to get married, not just to date.  The pressure kind of mounted.  I was 22.

It was at this point (in my mid 20’s) that the whole “biblical dating” movement happened. Being a young Christian leader I of course wanted to do right.  So I didn’t date to date, never kissed anyone and even did the whole “courting” thing once.  Turns out you can get hurt there too.

When I turned 30 I moved to St. Louis, a much more target rich environment.  But there was a big problem.  I was frozen.  It was like I couldn’t pursue.  I over thought everything.  I was still too religious and when I did like someone I was too try hard.  I over thought, over pursued and felt awkward.  I was the nice guy.  It was seriously crazy.  It was like I was on the court, but not really able to engage.

There are a lot of guys in some sort of similar boat.  We talk all the time about how guys are passive and don’t pursue.  And many times when they do it’s all wrong.  A girl once told me, “I’m so tired of Christian guys.”  This was a gal who loved Jesus.  What she was really saying is, “I’m tired of wuss Christian guys who either won’t pursue me at all or who chase me and are constantly needy.”

We have a serious problem.  Many guys are frozen.  The reasons include but are not limited to:

  • Over-spiritualizing the whole thing.  This includes all I talked about here.  
  • Over-thinking the whole thing.  All of the pretend conversations with girls, trying to figure out if they like me, speculating on how it will all pan out, trying to avoid hurt and on and on
  • Fear of rejection – we are often afraid to ask out who we really want to.  Part of this comes from over thinking and building up the situation to begin with.
  • Fear of commitment – a lot of guys are just scared of marriage
  • Not knowing how to attract girls.  Most men have no training or help on how female attraction works.  They don’t know how to do it.
  • Waiting for the perfect person – you know the one who looks just right, talks just right, and acts just right – before you even know her
  • Worrying about what others think – both the girl we might ask and what others will think of her if we do
  • We’ve spent too much time having our sexual needs met other ways, which drives down the desire for marriage and drives up our shame – bad combination (more here soon)

All of these can play into each other.  It’s a cycle.  I think about it more, which steals more of my identity away from Christ, which makes me more worried about how it will go, which makes me less likely to act, which means when I do it will be awkward, which will make me more unattractive, which will mean I’m rejected, which will make me think about it more . . . . Whew I’m tired.

We’ve got to figure out how to stop it.  We’ve got to figure out how to act with some reckless abandon (which by the way is extremely attractive).  We have to break free and just go.

What freezes you?  What keeps you from fully engaging and pursuing marriage?  What has helped you get past it?

Are You Disqualified From Marriage?

One of my favorite movies is Good Will Hunting and my favorite scene comes toward the end.  Will (played by Matt Damon) is meeting with his counselor (played by Robin Williams).  Williams pulls out Damon’s file and talks about all the abuse he has faced in his life.  He then says, “Will, I don’t know a lot, but this, all of it, it’s not your fault.”  Will says, “I know” very nonchalantly.  Williams then says it again, and again, and again until finally Will, after getting very agitated, falls into his arms.  You see Will knew intellectually that it wasn’t his fault, but until that moment he didn’t KNOW that it wasn’t.

I think we do this with forgiveness.  Around a year ago I was having a cigar with a good friend.  This guy is one of the best guys I know – smart, fun, talented and a good friend to people.  Without going much into his story he has some issues with religion.  As we were sitting there discussing this I said, “You know that you’re forgiven right?”  He stopped in his tracks. He kind of tried to skirt the issue but I just kept hammering it.  A month later we met up and he said, “Thanks for screwing up my life – I mean that.”  He knew it intellectually but he just then began to KNOW it.

I bring this up because I think it relates to thoughts we can have as a single person.  We watch marriages around us and we think about all the reasons we are not married.  One of the things that can creep in is “It’s because I sinned.”  It’s as if we think somehow we have disqualified ourselves before God.  Now we probably wouldn’t ever say this but if we are honest many of us have had the thought.  God is not punishing your sin with singleness.

Now if you have unrepentant sin, that could certainly get in the way of getting married, among other things. Let’s say for example you are sleeping around, that might not be the best time to say to God, “Will you just bring me a spouse.”  It’s important to understand that how we are living affects our situation.  But that is not what I’m talking about here.

What I’m saying is that you are not disqualified from marriage because of sin.  God is not holding out on you or punishing you because of it.  It’s not a marriage qualifier.  If it was, no one, and I mean no one, would be married.  All the people you see married – they have sinned too.  You say, “Well Justin, you don’t get it, I’ve done really bad in this area of life.” You’ve slept with 100 people, dated the wrong people, had an abortion, looked at porn, or masturbated a river. . . I do get it.  God’s grace is bigger.  You are forgiven.  God is not holding it against you and keeping you from having a spouse because of it.

I think we kind of understand forgiveness as a means to salvation – which is mainly an intellectual exercise.  I don’t think we get it as a means to freedom in life – we don’t live out of it.

This is extremely dangerous as a single when we assign it to dating.  First of all as I mentioned earlier, you don’t earn a spouse.  Secondly, it can lead us to very bad choices because we have a bad view of ourselves. We can decide that we have to marry someone who has sinned the same way as us, which can lead us to bad situations and rule out people.  We can think, well I’ve had sex so I have to marry someone who has, I’m divorced so I have to marry someone else who is.  The list goes on.  That’s not a very good approach.  It also leads to the idea that singleness is a punishment from God.  But worst of all, it short changes God’s grace.  It basically says that God’s grace is good enough for salvation (a ticket to heaven) but it can’t free me from much here.  That is a lie straight from hell.

If you are in Christ, your sin is forgiven and you’re not disqualified from Heaven.  You are a new creation.  Jesus has paid for it.  Which do you think is easier, getting you into heaven or getting you married?

You know you are forgiven right?  How would you date different if you knew you were free?