I am at that age where people are growing anxious about my future, at least as it pertains to marriage and childbearing. Earlier this year my one aunt told me that I should be on my third child by now. Certain family members will text me when I post a picture featuring guys, asking which one of them is their future in-law. Most recently, I told my mom and my aunt that I am going to my friend’s wedding. This prompted both to ask when it would be my turn. But I am happily 30 and, to the distress of friends and family, I’m also very happily single.
It’s been plaguing my mind that people see singleness as a state of incompleteness.
My singleness doesn’t keep me up at night. Even though it evidently seems to have that effect on others. However, a thought that has been plaguing my mind is how it continues to be the case that people see singleness as a state of incompleteness.
Marriage, The Respectable Idol
I’ve attended conferences where the topic of the idolatry of marriage is addressed to people who are “struggling” with their singleness. I’ve also heard the topic addressed to engaged or married couples who are in danger of seeking from their marriage what can only be found in Christ, or in danger of turning inwardly on themselves and forgetting that marriage is about serving. But I have not been in circles where this topic of idolising marriage is addressed on the wider, societal scale.
Our purpose in life is to glorify God, and we can do that whether we’re single or married.
Just last year, one of my brothers at Bible college expressed his concern that I would fail to “fulfil my purpose as a woman”, if I was set on lifelong singleness. I will not get into how mad I was at that comment. It will suffice here to say: “Brothers, take a seat! Our purpose in life is to glorify God, and we can do that whether we’re single or married.” Just take a look at 1 Corinthians 7:17. But his view is one we still find throughout society. For most people believe that something is lacking in one’s life until you get married.
We Believe A Wedding Will Complete Us
It seems that we have deviated from Augustine’s, “Our heart is restless until it rests in the Lord“. Instead, we believe: “Our heart is restless until it rests in a marital partner”, or, “Our life is incomplete until it finds completion in marriage”.
Augustine understood that the Lord created us for himself. But it seems my culture is teaching that God created us for marriage. Now, don’t get me wrong here, marriage is a beautiful gift from God. Through marriage we can be a display of Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). We’ve all heard countless sermons on this theme. The sermons that seem to be lacking are those affirming the beauty of singleness.
Few people are bold enough to proclaim that the Bible does not promise marriage to everyone.
Few people are bold enough to proclaim that the Bible does not promise marriage to everyone. It seems that our preachers are aware of the desire for marriage that infests churches, they therefore sensitively steer clear of this matter, so as not to crush people’s dreams. Instead, singles are encouraged to prepare themselves to be godly women and men as they wait for their future godly spouses. Thus most singles treat their singleness as a waiting period for marriage. Marriage is seen as the end goal.
No wonder people become anxious upon reaching a certain age and marriage is nowhere in sight. No wonder many singles find it hard to be content and joyful in their singleness.
Is Being Single Really ‘Not Good’ in Genesis?
I have heard people taking Genesis 2:18 and running wild with it. The verse reads: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”. Some take this to mean that singleness itself is “not good.” However, I think it is unfaithful to the whole counsel of scripture to take Genesis 2:18 and use it as a polemic against singleness.
Genesis 2:18 comes in a context of work needing to be done (Genesis 2:15). A biblical theology of kingdom work and its breadth reveals that there’s a necessary place for both singleness and marriage. From as early as Genesis 4, where it is evident that Abel lived and died as a single man, we see that one can be faithful and glorifying to God even while single.
Like Abel, one can be faithful and glorifying to God even while single.
Without getting into the debates about the purposes of marriage, I think it must be agreed that, at the very least, Genesis 2:18 teaches us the need for companionship and partnership as we carry out the work of God’s kingdom. In the beginning, marriage was the means for that companionship and partnership, yet as scripture progresses we see that it takes other forms as well. These include friendship, gospel partnership, and discipleship.
Both Marriage & Singleness are Gifts
Our culture has moved away from seeing both marriage and singleness as God-given gifts (1 Corinthians 7:7). We see marriage as ‘the gift’ that should be desired, while weeping for those who lack it. But Paul presents both singleness and marriage as gifts. Contrast that with the prevailing view that we settle for singleness after losing hope for marriage. There is no encouragement to mindfully consider and pursue singleness with as much heart and commitment as marriage is often pursued.
We see marriage as ‘the gift’ that should be desired, while weeping for those who lack it.
Whenever we talk about Paul’s encouragement to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:32-35), we very quickly want to bring in that Paul was not against marriage either. This is true. Paul valued marriage, as all of us should. But our quickness to dismiss his case and encouragement for singleness is yet another display of how protective we are of the idol we have made of marriage.
The Single Life Isn’t Deficient (or Disobedient)
Those who choose singleness are often frowned upon as though they are being disobedient to God. Rather than being encouraged to be devoted to the Lord in an unwavering manner, there is suspicion and subtle accusation that they idolise independence. Their choice is often seen as selfishness. Their lives are deemed easier than the lives of those with kids. This is also true. Our reasons for choosing to remain single are not always entirely godly.
Talk to singles! You may find that far from being selfish, their choice is actually sacrificial.
But rather than accuse us of blatant disobedience, why not call us to account? You can ask singles about how they are using the gift of singleness for God’s glory. Sure, in some ways our lives are not as complicated as the lives of parents. But instead of making assumptions about how easy we have it, why not take time to actually hear what’s going on in our lives? You may find that far from being selfish, the choice is actually sacrificial.
Looking At Things Clearly
I value marriage. It is one of the most beautiful things on this fallen earth. I have benefitted greatly from friendships and gospel partnerships with married people. I also believe that there are ministries that are best served by married people rather than singles.
My purpose is not to look down on marriage in any way. Nor do I intend to shame those who desire marriage. This is a cry against those who look down on singleness. It is a cry against those who shame others who have chosen singleness. It’s a call for us to recognise and repent of the respectable idol we have made of marriage.