Being single over 22 in the church is a strange phenomenon known to confuse elders far and wide. We are the welcome lepers, pushed into groups by ourselves where we can mingle and wallow and wonder what we’ve done to be cursed into being alone. Hopefully, our group will lead to connection with another leper and together we will be healed by Holy Matrimony and finally we can join the rest of the church.
I’m mostly kidding.
If you’re raised in the church, there are a few lessons you learn: Jonah and the whale, Noah and the Ark, Jesus feeds the 5,000, good Christian boys and girls find each other and get married, etc. Without really thinking about it, you just kind of expect you will be married young like everyone you know. At least, that was my experience. This notion was exacerbated by attending a Christian college where ‘ring before spring’ was a very real phenomenon.
Don’t get me wrong – I mean zero disrespect to married couples or how the church values marriage. It’s an incredible thing and should be valued. If you want, assume I’m a bitter single girl and take nothing I say seriously.
During sermons, it’s common for pastors to refer to their marriages or relationships in general to illustrate their points. This doesn’t really bother me because I’m an adult and can see what they’re trying to convey. One time, however, I heard a speaker try to tailor a message to the singles and try to reach them where they were. At first I was confused because I’m thinking, well I’m right here with the married people but it’s fine, continue. And then I got over my snarky self and decided to listen.
In complete honesty, I don’t remember much of what he said about it because I kind of zoned out after he generalized being a single Christian under the most offensive thing for me to hear. Yes, more offensive than Johnny’s wonderful aunt trying to hook us up because we would be great together and he’s such a nice boy.
You are called to singleness.
As someone who’s essentially been single her entire life, this really grinds my gears. I’ve heard other Christians say they’ve been called to singleness, and maybe they have, but it’s not right to put that on every Christian person who isn’t married. You know what it looks like to me? You don’t really know what to say about prolonged singleness because you don’t understand. You try to glorify it and soothe our poor, lonely wounds by letting us know we have some wonderful, magnificent purpose and it is being single.
How about this? Sometimes we’re just single.
Famously single person Paul wrote about being single in 1 Corinthians 7, citing married people are more concerned with pleasing their spouses but single people can direct all of their attention to the Lord. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to argue with Paul who was way more than just a single man but isn’t it fun to define someone by one inconsequential label?
This is how the church should focus on singleness – as a gift, not a calling. It is a gift that can lead you to do other really important things you are called to do, just like marriage can. More than just telling us it’s a gift and we should be grateful, the church should want to meet us here and help us get to the whole ‘it’s a gift’ stage.
It’s really frustrating being single at least 20 percent of the time. Even if you’re content and independent, sometimes you really want a significant other. Weddings are a great example, especially when virtually all of your friends are getting married. Netflix bingeing is another solid example. I’m still waiting to watch Stranger Things in the hope I’ll have a boyfriend soon (she says mostly sarcastically).
Personally, I do view being single as an incredible gift. It’s why at 26, I’m not using dating services or going out of my way to meet anyone. My time is mine, which means I can give as much of it to other people as I want. I can go and visit my nieces or hang out with friends without having a big time suck boyfriend who wants to see me because I’m so awesome.
Most importantly (to me), it means I can devote a lot of time to my church. I like to joke that I can volunteer so much because I don’t have a life, but that’s really only half true. I like to give as much as I can now, because I know it won’t always be this way. Someday, maybe next month or in 10 years, I will meet someone and they will need me, too.
Now I say this and you might want to point out that I am representing single guy Paul’s words pretty well, but you have to remember that I’m almost 26. I had my last boyfriend (of three months) at 18. The eight years in between weren’t always easy and filled with enlightenment. Steadily, I grew more comfortable with being alone and allowed God to use it in my life and show me it was a gift. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I didn’t need a man.
Over the years, I realized a few important things, like if I had married someone from my past, it probably would’ve been a disaster. I’m a different girl than I was at 18, 21, 23 and even 25 and I keep growing into this person. I’m actually happy I became this version of myself before meeting someone. Lately, I’m realizing how much I have to give while I wait.
And yes, I am waiting, mostly patiently. Contrary to what you might think, I am excited to meet someone. But marriage isn’t the ultimate goal of my life and that is a good thing because I’m living for my King and not some random guy out in the world.
I want to add another disclaimer about the churches I’ve attended because it might seem like I paint them pretty negatively. I’ve been a part of several amazing communities and I don’t want to take away from the work they do for the Kingdom. The issue of singleness in the church is bigger than one congregation. It’s literally the Church.
To conclude, we aren’t lepers and we aren’t necessarily called to be alone. Help us develop our gifts and use our time but don’t assume we should magically enjoy being single. You tell me the grass isn’t always greener in relationship land and I expect you to believe it isn’t always better where I live, either.
To other single people: It sucks a lot sometimes, I know. I KNOW. I don’t want to minimize your struggles by discussing where I am now. I have pages and pages of journal entries about boys and crying out to God about why I’m still single. It’s a process. Maybe you’ll meet someone before you get here, maybe not. The best thing I can say is we know God is working for our good, right? We have that promise. So we don’t have missed opportunities. There wasn’t anything else you could’ve said to make something work. It wasn’t you, it was probably God. Enjoy all these moments because they are making you into the person God designed, and he or she is incredible. You are already loved so magnificently you can’t even fathom it. Believe me, I know.