When Singleness Gets Ugly

treeI’ve been getting a little mail from Christians struggling with singleness.

I have a heart for them. Long-term singleness is a delicate, heartfelt matter. If my journey has taught me anything, and if I may be honest, I’ve found the Kingdom’s singleness teachings…lacking. Not always deep enough. Frequently written by people who married at 21. Often rushing to deny that it’s even a struggle (for various reasons).

I may not be John Piper, but I am a single Christian, and you know the saying: write what you know.

Okay. For some believers, singleness is…a longing. They could use encouragement. But that’s as far as it goes. They’re okay. They wouldn’t call it their foremost trial.

For others of you…it’s something more.

You find yourself thinking about it often. It’s what you usually mean by phrases like “unspoken prayer request” or “I’m just struggling”. You used to take comfort in having plenty of time before you reached the age of the married people you admire. Then you look around and they’re all younger. Perhaps you’ve ground through three or four committed relationships (that wasn’t in the manual) and wonder what it will take for one to finally stick. Or you haven’t had a date in six years.

This stuff matters to you. You’ll not catch me looking down on you for it.

It’s not about just your “plans” (which is how the church often responds), thank ya kindly. We wanted this. Some people don’t want to vacation on their own. They just don’t. We want a witness to our lives, someone to share a ministry or thunderstorm, a Netflix series or an ominous newscast. We want someone waiting at home, to laugh and cry with us, to know our favorite words. Just getting to say “we” instead of “I” sounds amazing.

Instead, your faithfulness seems unrewarded. Singleness involves rejection. In what universe is that not supposed to sting? After a while, singleness feels less like a season and more like a statement. This is beyond campfire cliches. Anyone who’s carried a hope deferred for ten years qualifies for better spiritual aid. (Even college students can feel this ache pretty keenly.)

Singleness landscapes life. You’re walled out of ministries, less sought after by married friends who still love you but want to celebrate and grow with those in the same season. You realize families have a bigger footprint at church. Ever noticed how couples can make friends just by swapping stories of their kids? You don’t have that. Depending on the crowd you run with, it takes a greater effort each year just to keep up. I doubt that’s what Hebrews 12 meant by “run the race”.

Some judge you. They’re annoyed to see someone struggling with something so “minor” and “escapable”. They assume some dysfunction or immaturity that’s driving all your dates away. (We even assume this of each other.) Or they might just not know what to tell you anymore.

I know chaste singles who no longer wear their old purity ring. It’s long ceased to be a promise and become only a reminder.

At the end of the day, it is a profound test of faith. We don’t talk about it anymore because it never changes anything and others are tired of listening and we’re wondering whether it should be this big a deal, but honestly…nothing else seems as hard. Wisely or not, some of us staked large parts of our hearts – even the question of God’s goodness – on the dream of getting married. We feel blindsided by how bumpy and lonely and ordinary life has turned out instead.

There have been long nights, tears, clenched teeth, or abandoned purity. You’d be amazed at how often someone leaves their faith and some failed romance (or no romance at all) shows up on the autopsy. Depending on the person and their story, this season can be debilitating and scary.

You’re welcome on this blog. You’re not nuts. You’re not pathetic. You’re a child of God (or can be), target of his patient love, beneficiary of his endless strength.

Singleness is the journey I took (or was given), and know this – God has not run out of things to say. Even if the church has. We’ve only just begun to tap into the depths of his resources. When he offers to lift us through any trial – well, I have much to say about what that looks like.

For now, come back to this: he still loves us. He still pursues us. He is still for us. He has not left our side. Despite the disappointing weight of the years, he still knocks on the door of our hearts, hoping to share a meal. No new teaching is better than that.


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A Single Christian, Not a Christian Single

walkI’ve noticed that practically everything, from our job to our citizenship to a thorn in the side, has an easier time sliding to the forefront of our minds than does our identity in Christ.

Take singleness. You’ll find no suggestion on this blog that singleness isn’t hard for some people. And you could ask ten singles why it’s hard and get ten different reasons. For some, it’s just the loneliness; for others, it’s marginalization by the church, missing out on invites, being seen only for your marital status and not for you. Though singleness is a productive season in God’s eyes, there’s no doubt it has its thorns.

Gradually, over the course of time, you might find that singleness is hanging over your soul. It’s become your identity. You honestly don’t think of much else.

No doubt singleness is influential. It filters into all the details of your life as surely as marriage does (it’s like sand – it gets everywhere), and that matters to God. But once it becomes a bigger deal than your identity in Christ, when the latter just doesn’t seem to matter as much, it is possible that we’ve left joy and truth behind? No season of our lives should usurp our identity in Christ.

It’s even better to be noticed by God than to be noticed by a human.

It’s even better to celebrate Christmas than to have people to spend it with.

It’s even better to be mature in the faith than to be doing the things church people consider “grown-up stuff.”

It’s even better to take God’s word to the nations alone than to raise a family without ever telling anyone about Jesus.

It’s even better to have your name in the Book of Life than in a wedding guestbook.

It’s even better to be given by God “a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one else knows” (Rev 2:17) than to change your last name.

It’s even better to get invites to the Lamb’s wedding feast than to get invites from other married couples because you have kids, too.

It’s even better to be made acceptable by Jesus’ blood than to be accepted by people – though rejection still hurts.

It’s even better to get God’s unbreakable promises than human vows that will be neglected weekly (such as “to honor and cherish”).

And when we sigh and struggle just to care about God’s delight in us, we find how long we’ve spent outside the influence of Christ’s identity for us.

I don’t mean to guilt. Let us find God’s grace. I believe he cares very much about our heart’s desires and, for many of us, is still turning the cranks on his plan to fulfill them.

But remember – it is only out of our identity in Christ that we can do our part to fulfill God’s plan anyway. It’s only out of our identity in Christ that we will catch the notice of a true disciple, become a good spouse and parent, or live out our other kingdom purposes in the meantime.

“Single” works better as an adjective. The cross and empty tomb are our nouns.

Take back your joy and your status as “more than a conqueror” in God’s love. While we wait for our human families of our own, let us celebrate being invited into God’s. For when we thank him for it, meditate upon it, and celebrate it, it will take a turn overshadowing all else.


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!

His Peace Must Be Chosen

jordanEver heard psalmists and David Crowder sing unabashedly of God being “everything they need” and wondered, What on earth are they talking about?

Me, too.

One of the chief comforts of Scripture when we are disappointed, discouraged, or heartbroken, is that the Christian’s highest goal is not that dream or achievement or milepost you’ve fallen short of, but knowing God. Making him your peace, your joy, your contentment, your soul’s richest food and water. He, the Bible tells us repeatedly, is the only thing that will truly ever satisfy.

But you might have noticed it doesn’t just drop in with the mail.

Where is it then, God? Where are you?

Or as a friend put it recently, “Why can’t I appropriate for myself what God has promised me?”

We know God is faithful. His side of the deal is inerrant and unfailing; there is no lie or failure with him.

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Find a Savior Who Looks at You Like He’d Die For You

5661613189_65be533432_bLife has a way of breaking down your categories. You leave home and discover that Christians aren’t always decent people, nor atheists villains. You get a job and find out that some of the people out there with the foulest mouths and quickest tempers also have the very biggest hearts. You go through an election cycle. I’ll say no more about that. Whatever the case, our black-and-white definitions of things and people are constantly being broken down by life. It’s really a huge favor, if you think about it.

Same thing with marriage.

I’ve longed to be married for quite a while. I have many friends who can say the same. The world around me, too, seems convinced that this is the answer. You can tell by what they say, what they post, what they pursue. They just don’t talk about anything else. “Find a man who looks at you like…” Continue reading

Was Your Mind Made Up?

stormWe were expecting life to be pretty smooth.

High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, all falling into place in our twenties without that many bumps.

And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away. “If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”

Maybe it wasn’t quite that total or explicit. We still love him…kinda. We believe…that he exists. We certainly get riled up on his behalf when some atheist starts talking.

But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise. Continue reading

How Do You Want Your Singleness Remembered?

victoryLong-term singleness can be heartbreaking.

For all the church’s teaching on how singleness is a valid season and state of being (and it is), they seem to miss the point sometimes. Or a lot, depending on who you ask.

Some of us don’t do well on our own. We just don’t. The idea of vacations by ourselves seems utterly pointless; every year sees more friends marry off and leave you with less in common; and no matter how much good stuff we hear about self-improvement, no one person will ever be good at everything. Or even remotely competent, as my attempt at steak last week could testify. Such success is rare in my apartment.

For those who never grew up in strong homes in the first place, the search for love, for a witness to our lives, takes on a far greater urgency. Their “love tank” is empty. As the grandchildren of the sixties continue growing, you will see more of that.

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The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 4: Dating

datesThis is Part 3 of a series of reflections on singleness, sparked by public comments that “intentional singleness without the “gift of celibacy” is “at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility”.

Such strong comments naturally strike hard. Matters of the heart are delicate. There are enough subclasses of singles, enough sensitivity around the issue, that I find such opinions – in this case, from Dr. Albert Mohler – falling short of the mark even with the right caveats.

For one, many wise, obedient street-level singles would say that their efforts to marry have been divinely thwarted (Part 1 of this series), a God-operation Scripture accommodates but Mohler does not. “You don’t have to tell me that marriage matters,” they’d sigh. “God’s told me no.”

For another, the “gift of celibacy” isn’t easily delineated. Some people have it who don’t yet think they do; some happily married people once swore up and down that they’re 21st-century Pauls. And some singles confuse the gift with irritation over being herded into a congregational marriage machine (Part 2 of this series) instead of being loved for who they are.

But my first thought upon reading Dr. Mohler’s comments? “If you want to know why marriage is fading, sir, you could look within your own circle.”

Now…I do not want to make this another Joshua Harris bashing session.

Please, Jesus, spare me from that. Poor man.

But…while the reasons for singleness’ increase are many – the “me first” or “boy culture” Mohler refers to, the rareification of good prospects – the muckraking of dating in some Christian spheres also bears examination. Many single Christians would love to marry. They simply feel the tools have been taken away from them. And it’s got them frustrated.

I know too many such singles to dismiss this as a factor. There’s enormous hesitation around even everyday interactions, and I’m not talking about the Graham Rule. I have single female friends who get theologically nervous about even walking up and talking to a guy they’ve noticed. I get leaving pursuit to men. I love that. But when they don’t even feel permitted to invite him to church or Bible study, of all things, I grow concerned. It’s possible to for our system to be so legalistic that it no longer serves either God or man. Especially if they’re actually mainly concerned about what people will say.

“How can you learn anything without practicing?” a friend asked one day at Panda Express. He was chasing the first gal God led him to pursue(!) and it was daunting – the flowers, the listening, the art of it all. And this was a righteous, mature guy. It’s a chronic problem today that humbly yet confidently (and righteously) pursuing a woman’s heart is lost knowledge. We want to pursue. Many women want to be pursued. But there’s a vague sense that it’s just…wrong somehow. So we abstain.

The result? We are…single. And wondering…single because that’s God’s perfect will for his 21s-century church (an idea for which I’ve never seen any Biblical support), or single in the same way that submitting no resumes tends to leave you jobless?

The confusion strikes right at the practical. Harris told the story of how his father was instructed by God not to pursue his mother when they met. God knew she was fed up with immature Christian guys and that traditional wooing wouldn’t work. God worked it all out. Somehow. Though the “somehow” was never really explained.

You can imagine how this unique story imprinted upon skittish young hearts and theologies in all the wrong ways.

To be fair, the common anti-dating sentiment in its present form is not necessarily what Harris intended. Messages get distorted. They jump gender and maturity lines. And Harris, to my admiration, has been starkly honest recently in refining his own teachings.

But we’re still left with two decades of echoing opinion that labels pursuit in all forms – from solo coffeeshop chats to dating websites – as “training for divorce”.

In the interim, dating has been replaced with…well, nothing. Sit back, serve somewhere, and hope to get noticed (that’s not why we serve, by the way). In other words, something awfully close to passivity is held up as 1) true surrender, 2) more romantic, and 3) a guarantee that God will preserve your marriage. Because spending time alone at a restaurant with someone just looks too much like the world.

The last thing Christian males need these days is more passivity.

I imagine Mohler would agree. I imagine we’d all agree.

Now, Christianity may not have died out on earth because fewer Christians are dating; indeed, for some people, total inaction has worked just fine (and some Christians just shrug and date anyway). But any leeway given to passivity among us young men is something I’ll never feel good about.

By the way, I’m not saying any of this to give myself permission to date. I don’t like to. Some of us are introverts. And dating is exhausting. The time and money, the repeating of the same information, the minefields of rules and expectations and toxic dates..eh. Maybe there’s a reason we all embraced Harris’ ideas with such relief.

I also acknowledge that this “wait on God” teaching is largely directed at believers who are too eager to marry – dating rabidly, making poor partner choices – in hopes of giving them holier alternatives. I totally sympathize. I also still think it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater (and y’all know how I feel about that). Or Nyquil, as a better metaphor – going after the symptoms and not the virus. Hearts are what need healing there, not removing social tools that work fine for adults.

In the end, there’s no explicit Scriptural guidance for either side of the debate. There are principles for not doing anything stupidly or selfishly. There are examples of God directly matchmaking. Or giving individual dispensations to avoid certain things, which are absolutely proper if confirmed through prayer and church support (I have friends in that group, too).

But a blanket command is just not there. Which puts the matter squarely in Romans 14 territory – those who date shouldn’t judge those who don’t (or parents who don’t permit it), nor should those who don’t judge those who do.

I believe God does lead some people to date people they won’t marry. That’s my testimony and that of several friends. I believe a properly constructed Christian’s life can include divinely-appointed relationships before marriage. Mine includes two so far. My friends are now happily hitched (or about to be). Our experiences were bummers, but not nasty or depressing. We survived. We learned. And, by God’s grace, we moved on.


I’m just some bozo let loose on a keyboard, but if you ask me, Christians should feel free to date. It should be done prudently, prayerfully, with good discernment of the other’s character and the readiness to move on if needed, and probably not every month. But it shouldn’t be condemned. Assuming responsibility for God’s purposes in our lives is not tantamount to “taking things out of God’s hands”. It’s just…life.


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!