The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 1

road (2)(Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)

Recently, I’ve become aware of past controversial comments made by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Christian singleness.

In previous years, Dr. Mohler has directed heavy criticism at kingdom singles. He has labeled as sinful the practice of delaying marriage by those who lack the “gift of celibacy”.

Singleness is not a sin, but deliberate singleness on the part of those who know they have not been given the gift of celibacy is, at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility. The problem may be simple sloth, personal immaturity, a fear of commitment, or an unbalanced priority given to work and profession. On the part of men, it may also take the shape of a refusal to grow up and take the lead in courtship. There are countless Christian women who are prayerfully waiting for Christian men to grow up and take the lead. What are these guys waiting for? (Link)

Hailing from a Baptist paradigm that appreciates marriage’s Biblical shine (and having actually read the qualifiers in Mohler’s comments), I get what he was aiming for.

Nevertheless, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t), he’s left a lot out. Mohler’s comments are only a sliver of the much bigger message that Christian singles really need to be hearing. And that message is difficult, because not every single is created equal. God in his sovereignty is painting with a great many shades.

We singles are…complicated. A diverse bunch. Far more than is commonly recognized. We land somewhere on a spectrum best described so: I want someone, yet at the same time, I’m not sure I do. But I totally do! Yet…am I sure?

Some are tired of being judged entirely by, and being asked only about, their marital status. They feel unseen for themselves. That matters to millennials.

Others feel they lack the tools or a conducive personality (e.g. introverts) to move towards marriage.

And still others have tried to find a mate, spent countless nights bedside in tears praying for someone, and…nothing. They’ve put real effort into finding someone – and been resisted so serendipitously and relentlessly that they can only conclude God is the one keeping them single. Relationships buckle. Peace evaporates. Parties are called to move away. Or…nobody notices.

One friend, a passionate youth pastor who has served God far harder than some marrieds, lives in a formidably atheist country where kingdom singles are slightly more plentiful than unicorns (to say nothing of quality). Others live in rural areas, where they start wondering whether God has left them to the rules of probability.

This is the reality for singles at the street level. Needless to say, it might be a disservice to fall short of honoring these stories. Lack of pursuit is hardly the sole generator of singleness.

I and many of my single friends fall into this “unexpectedly unmarried” category in various ways, and trust me, we’ve been as annoyed as Mohler. Singleness at this age isn’t what we’d have chosen. Despite popular theories on the parameters of the “gift of celibacy”, the Companionship, Sex, and Family Lobe of our brains has not simply been divinely deactivated. You can take my word on that. Whether we “can accept this teaching” is not the question. We have been denied, and we don’t have sin as an alternative. That is our reality.

The desire-ectomy does happen with some. It happened with the apostle Paul. I have an aunt with that testimony (which includes the reignition of desires once the time for marriage came). But assuming a lack of desire is universal for Christian singles betrays a stark, eyebrow-raising lack of familiarity with our world.

Which means that blanket words of condemnation for being unmarried at thirty are the wrong kind of salt: rubbed in a wound.

Marriage-as-normative theology doesn’t have easy explanations for these scenarios. But it’s not hard to work out some Biblical reasons for them.

For one thing, God doesn’t guarantee easy or quick roads to even the destinations he explicitly sets. Even our sanctification, of all things, is a process.

For another, God doesn’t work identically with everyone. Many preachers have found it instructive that Jesus never healed the same way twice. “Never try to make your experience a principle for others,” Oswald Chambers wrote, “but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you.”

For another, while there’s heartsickness in a hope deferred, there is also value. In Luke 9:57-62, Jesus warns a man about the cost of following him while telling two others to follow regardless of cost. You’d think Jesus would be the last to say anything that could discourage someone from following. His point: there’s a cost, and that cost lies in different places for different people.

Could it be that each of us has different faults and idolatries that need healed? Could it be that God sanctifies some through marriage, some through delays, and a few through permanent singleness?

Frankly, I’m glad God me wait. Younger Brandon didn’t enjoy it, but he would have enjoyed a young marriage far less. He wasn’t a monster. He just didn’t have the stability for the jostling matrimony brings. Am I ready now? Eh. I’ll let God decide this time. Meanwhile, I’m just grateful I have more of him.

Similarly, many of my friends, though disappointed, have had enough respect for God to seek him in the present, not just an escape. I find this choice worthy of credit, not a rebellion against God’s design. “Waiting is transformative,” one friend said simply. Such revelations can change a life, if we let them.

Later in this series, I hope to adequately address more shades – those who struggle to move towards marriage and the reasons why.

For now, given that we know reality fits the Bible, and that the parameters of the “gift of celibacy” are not Scripturally black-and-white, we’d probably be better served adjusting our theology. There is no explicit Biblical statement that one had better either marry by 29 or be able to produce a “celibacy card” with God’s rubber stamp on the back. Instead we should remember that God has his timetable, that sometimes he (gasp!) denies hearts’ desires, and that his ways are higher than ours.

May we make room for that. For him.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 thoughts on “The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 1

  1. As a father of several single millenials, I appreciate your perspective on this. In some ways, it seems they’ve been too busy with school and work to develop a romantic relationship. In some ways, it seems their standards are too high to settle for those they have met thus far. But, most of all, I have to accept, God has them waiting and growing until the time is right. J.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I concede that Mohler has a fair point that marriage deserves at least comparable consideration with work and school in our lives. But ultimately, we need to be asking God individually what’s best, yes. Thanks for your perspective as a millennial-parent!

      Liked by 2 people

      • It’s easy for me to wonder if my wife and I have set a bad example that makes marriage less attractive to our children. (I don’t think so, though.) I’m glad that they have high standards and that they are not rushing into a life-changing relationship without due consideration. Still, there is always wondering and second-guessing. J.

        Liked by 2 people

      • we wonder and second guess ourselves too. It’s a scary time for us, sadly. We are torn between what we want, what every one else says and does and what people expect. I’m in my early 20s and am the only person from my graduating class that isn’t married/ married with kids already. We either find it early or find it late. It feels like there is no in between most of the time.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. So true. God has timelines for every person. heh…the other day, an aquaintance asked me, “So do you have a boyfriend yet?”😂. For some reason, I got highly annoyed at that question, it made me feel like does my whole life equate to finding a mate, don’t I matter as a single? I do long for someone, but I can’t force it, I just can’t find anyone compatible. I get so irritated when people ask me, they put pressure on you like it’s the end of the world if you don’t find a guy by age 30. 😭 I just find comfort in Jesus, especially the story where He met the Samaritan woman by the well, did she find fulfillment in all the 5 husbands she had, and now with the sixth who isn’t? I said a prayer to God that if He sees me being more effective in serving Him and to be the happiest without a husband, then I am content, but if He sees me better of paired up then He must provide. 😂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. My wife and I have a number of single friends. We’ve encouraged them that being sure one is completely sold out to Christ is the most important element to preparation for anything in life but especially marriage.
    Marriage can be tough at times. Singleness I think doubly so. Most of our single friends are over 40. Some are still believing for a mate. One female is content in her singleness.
    So many jump into marriage because they “fall in love” and assume that must mean God wants them to marry.
    We’ve spent a lot of hours, sometimes successfully sometimes not, counseling couples who are “no longer in love”.
    As hard as it can be, and I do still remember after 22 yrs, wait. Unless you know that you know that you know this is what Daddy wants it is unwise to enter into a covenant with someone with whom you are bound for life.
    Marriage is wonderful but especially as the day approaches one paints a target on one’s back for the enemy. He is out to destroy Christian marriages. If one is not prepared in their own walk they will not understand that most of the problems are just a tactic of the enemy to divide.
    I bless people looking for a companion of Daddy’s choosing but I also admonish them to focus their time in seeking Him.
    One other thought. Be prepared to be surprised. His ways are not our ways and the person who is best suited for us won’t always be what we expect.
    My wife had waited 35 yrs for a husband. I was divorced and was not at all what she expected or wanted. It wasn’t “fair”.Eventually God confirmed it in her heart.
    Her parents rejected her and it took a number of yrs for them to accept me. Yet, It actually made us stronger. We have so many testimonies of Daddy’s goodness. But whether you have always been single or are divorced and hoping to marry again deal with your own stuff as much as possible first.
    Sorry this is so long. We love people and have seen so many jump only to become brokenhearted later.
    Blessings
    .

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 2: Unaffirmed | Brandon J. Adams

  5. Pingback: The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 3: Hating Marriage | Brandon J. Adams

  6. Thank you. I’m one of the “unexpectedly unmarrieds.” I am surely bring sanctified this season. Younger me also definitely would not have been ready for marriage! I’m glad I will be older by the time marriage happens.

    Like

  7. Pingback: The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 4: Dating | Brandon J. Adams

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