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.

Is Getting Married In God’s Hands?

I recently received an email from a reader asking some questions about a particular situation.  I won’t go into the details but one of the things she said was that she was trying to leave the situation in God’s hands.  This is similar to some things I’ve talked about before but I want to revisit this idea.

This message of waiting for God to bring me the one or that God will bring the right one at the right time is super problematic if not wrong entirely.  And yet it comes from everywhere.  I remember once sitting in church and hearing the pastor in a marriage sermon say that he knew there were frustrated singles because God had not brought them the person yet.

It’s used often as a spiritual platitude spoken to singles as well as by singles themselves.  Especially women.

It’s extremely shaky.

How do people get there?  Well there are some good and bad internal motivations.

A few good motivations

  • Some people are trying to honor God as sovereign over everything.  They don’t want to take false credit or assume they know the answers.  Fair enough.
  • Some are trying to have a submissive attitude towards God.  “God I want this or that, but Your will first, not mine”.  A great starting point for any endeavor.
  • Some have been so over focussed and have had marriage as an idol that they are trying to avoid that by giving it up.
  • A lot of pastors and married folks are trying to be encouraging.  Truly.  They don’t see how they really got married other than a gift and they just know that God wants to gift their friends in the right time.
  • An effort to defeat the myth that you earn a spouse from God – which is important because you don’t.

Here are a few bad motivations

  • We don’t like dealing with rejection so if it’s all on God then it’s not on me
  • We don’t like dealing with our insecurities so again it’s not on me
  • We don’t like dealing with our sin and shortcomings.  It’s not me God it’s You
  • We are scared crapless and this way I don’t have to face the fear of acting
  • We have completely over spiritualized the whole thing to the point that any action seems like it would be to take matters into our own hands and not allow for God to move..

These are just a few examples of how we arrive at the “When God wills it then I’ll get married” sayings.

None of this is actually helpful if you are over 25 and single.

We don’t do this with anything else we do.  Not anything that we really care about anyway.

We shouldn’t do it with ministry.   God will bring the people He wants to our church.  We don’t have to ask anybody or market ourselves or serve the community.  We’ll just build a building and hope some people show up.  We don’t have to talk to them when they do.  If they are meant to be here, then they’ll come back.  No church planter I’ve ever known goes at it that way. (I’m sure some do – and the planting is short lived).

We don’t do this when we seek employment.  I see a job opening at this great company I want to work for.  I think I’m qualified.  But I won’t apply or send them a resume.  I won’t work to get an interview.  I’ll just pray and if I’m supposed to have that job, I’m sure they’ll offer it to me.

We know this won’t work in any other area of our personal life.  I need to lose 10 pounds.  No need to work out or eat better.  Just pray about it.  After all if God wants me to be 10 pounds lighter He will make it happen.

I could do this all day.  Literally.  All. Day.

But for some reason, including the ones above, we’ve turned singleness and marriage into something that is basically akin to who gets in to heaven in terms of spiritual consequence.

Look, God has given us some guidelines.  We should have qualifiers for sure.  I’m not saying just go get married to whomever.  But we have to act.  Just like any other part of life.

In fact, and catch this (let those that have ears. . . ); It is in the acting that our faith is proven.  Whatever you believe theologically about God’s sovereignty, that sovereignty should be a launching pad not a hiding place.  It’s exactly because He is over everything that we can act in faith.  So by all means – act.

In fact, God’s will is mostly done by God’s people. So we need to do it with God.  But we need to do it.  That’s the whole point!  He wants us to do it all with Him.  But He wants us to do it.

Over and over we need to submit our desires, heck our whole being, to God.  We place ourselves in His hands and then we act out of that.  He grows us along the way.  Again that is His whole plan.

Now the question becomes what does that action look like?  That’s a great question.  I’ve written a lot about that for the guys here but in the coming weeks I’ll have a post for guys and one for the gals on what I think it means to act.

The bottom line for today: We should put ourselves in God’s hands. While there we should face our fears, insecurities, weaknesses and sins, as we act boldly to help advance the Kingdom that we know bringing – singleness, dating and marriage included.

A Good God And Singleness

In my last post I shared some thoughts in response to what Scott Sauls wrote at Relevant’s site about why we in the Church focus so much on the nuclear family.  The focus of that post was to point out that we need to focus on God’s family not the nuclear family.  Simply saying that the nuclear family is not the savior or necessary for salvation is not a good enough starting point.

Today, I want to talk about the idea that God is running every aspect of our dating lives.

I want to again say that I’m not trying to go after Scott but simply saying that what he writes, while better than what a lot of Church leaders are doing, is frankly not enough.  I believe he represents what many people in leadership are thinking.  There are assumptions here that I believe are at best short sighted.

He writes:

When the nuclear family is treated as the end-all-be-all in churches, it tempts single men and women to believe that they will never be complete until they find that “special someone” to spend their lives with.

But this is a lie. As my friend Paige Brown once said—as a single Christian woman with no marriage prospects who wanted very much to be married—it is not our marital status that defines us and makes us special; it is our redemptive status. According to Paige (and Scripture), it is impossible for God to shortchange any of His children: If she meets the man of her dreams and lives happily ever after, it will be because God is so good to her. If she never marries, it will be because God is so good to her.

Do we believe this in our churches? What’s more, do we act like we believe it?

 

The first paragraph here could not be more right.  He knocks it out of the park.  The idea that a person is not complete as a person in Christ unless or until they are married is completely false and frankly borderline heresy.  It goes against all that Jesus teaches us about our identity in Christ, not to mention our salvation.

Marriage doesn’t save anybody.  This idea that I’m promised a spouse or that God has someone out there for me are not only false spiritual platitudes, they also set us up to think that unless I have these things I’m not a whole person in Christ.  God’s family is all inclusive and based on relationship with Him and His family, not on which earthly relationships I’m blessed with, or not blessed with, here and now.

It is indeed our redemptive status that makes us special and complete.

It’s the rest of this section that seems totally incomplete.  That is the idea that God is the Great Withholder and we need to just sit back and let it happen.

First of all, the idea that if God brings us someone, then He is good to us, and if he doesn’t He is good to us gets too easily turned into God either does or does not have a “soulmate” for us.  In other words if it happens then God wants it.  If it doesn’t then God doesn’t want it.  This is not the same as whether or not God is good.  It sounds deep and theological.  But it leaves out a whole lot of factors.

It absolves us of any responsibility.  It also turns God into the great withholder.  I’ve beat this to death on this blog, but the bottom line, using Calvinism to explain the rapid increase in singleness is just bad and lazy.

Even on it’s premise it’s just ridiculous.  God has now decided to make people wait longer to get married?  In other words, if He is controlling all of this and is waiting to bring everyone their “one” then all this extra singleness going on is obviously His fault.  We can for sure now stop all of the “man up” sermons.  Sit back and play a video game.  Why not?  God will bring you the one when He’s ready to.  God used to do that when you were 16-22 years old but now He in His wisdom has decided to test us further by letting us all wait an extra ten years.  Come on folks.

Secondly the idea that whatever is happening in my life is God’s best for me is super shaky.  I get the desire to honor God’s sovereignty and I’m for it.  But we don’t get to leave out our own sin (including but not limited to our pride, insecurity, lust and gluttony) or the sin of others. If I’m being abused is that God’s best for me?  Should I stay in that situation?  If I’m jobless should I just stay in that situation and wait for God to deliver me a job?  Should I send out some resumes or no?

Look, God does bring people into our lives.  I’m not saying that God can’t lead you to someone.  But this idea of the perfect one delivered from God at exactly the right time is just completely counterproductive.  It is not helping.  It sounds good.  It might help some women sleep at night.  But that is about it and it needs to stop.

God is indeed good whether I get married or not.  In fact He is good no matter what happens to me and even no matter what I do right or wrong.  He’s good period.  But we live in a fallen world that is not always good.  We have to apply both truths to singleness and dating.  Failure to walk both sides of that line leads to a colossal imbalance and confusion.  Worse, that leads to people being unnecessarily hurt. Which is about where sit in our Churches now.