A plausible life of singleness
Delphne Tan // February 12, 2019, 11:11 am
Considering how many single people there are in church, why is it that the dominant discourse surrounding singleness is: Singlehood is good, but being married is better?
For younger singles, singleness often seems like a place of limbo where you are shaped for your purpose – which is supposedly marriage. But what about those who never actually get married or have reasons not to? Do we constantly stay in this waiting-to-be-married state?
Why isn’t a life of singleness something plausible? Why is it rather something we seem to be subjected to? While marriage is a reflection of that final wedding in Revelation between the church and Christ, marriage is not life’s ultimate goal, and it is not something that is promised to God’s people.
We are all children of God, whether married or single. So, I want to look at why it seems so implausible for one to live a life of singleness. I want to examine what the Bible says about singleness and think about how churches can help singles live as children of God complete in Christ.
These thoughts and many of the ideas here are taken from and inspired by Ed Shaw’s book The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction.
3 TRUTHS FOR SINGLES
1. Identity is found in Christ – not a relationship status
Once, while buying a bed at IKEA, the salesperson asked me: “Which size?” I replied: “Super-single,” before quipping to my mum, “Not just my bed!” We laughed while I cried on the inside.
My social media is filled with pictures of happy couples and their touching reflections on love. It’s hard not to look at your feed and think about your singlehood. Sometimes I’ll even choose not to go to dinners because I’ll be the only single person there. It’s even harder when people ask: “Oh, why are you single?”
The world tells us that we are our relationship status. Maybe people aren’t quite as bothered as I am about this, but it gets increasingly jarring as you get older.
But what does the Bible tell us about identity?
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12-3)
At the core we are not single or married, heterosexual or homosexual. We are first children of God. That is who I am as a Christian, no matter my relationship status.
But my focus on singlehood frequently attacks my identity. I question why I’m single, I find reasons to explain it. I often end up undoing everything God has redeemed when I became His child, by my self-criticism and deprecating words. I forget that I am loved by God and by people and I become bitter.
Today, I have been set free as a child of God. I’m learning more about myself each day as I walk with my Creator. In Him I find such freedom and joy. It would be unwise to turn to my relationship status to find my identity.
How can the church help? Well, Shaw believes that churches should empower their members to identify as children of God. That’s living from acceptance – not living for acceptance.
2. Church is family
I think the hardest part about being single is the idea that I may not have the chance to start a family. While I find having kids utterly terrifying, I also love children so much. There is a physical aching in me when I see videos of my niece or of friends’ children.
It is common to associate singleness with loneliness: No one to go home to, no kids to love and to be loved. The weight of that is hard to bear. But in Christ, the church is my family!
“[Jesus] replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
We have so many brothers, sisters and parents in the church. The life of a single in church is not a lonely one, but one that is filled with love and people.
But in Singapore, where we tend to be more family-oriented, the church can be a cold place for the older single at times. When friends get attached or married, they have less time for spontaneous meet-ups or meals together. Dinner plans have to be made months in advance. Understandably.
But what that means for me is that I feel constantly pushed to the outskirts of my friends’ lives. That closeness in a friendship is now a mere memory. It is hard not to feel utterly alone. As a 28-year-old, I want my friends to involve me in their lives, to be asked to their homes, to join in their family life.
How can the church help? Well, be family to your single friends. Take initiative to ask them out. Ask them out intentionally for dates. Have time with them alone. We all need each other.
3. True intimacy can be found outside of sex
We live in a sexualised culture. Just spend 10 minutes watching Netflix and you’ll know. The world tells us that intimacy is found in a sexual relationship. And for the celibate Christian single, we are constantly bombarded by glorified images and stories of sex.
But in the Bible, intimacy is not just merely found in marriages – it’s found in friendships as well. Shaw says that the friendship between David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:3) is one we would view as homoerotic today because we are unable to think that friendship can be as important and valuable as marriage. We often compare a marriage to friendship, but not a friendship to intimacy that can be found in marriage.
Such a friendship seems near impossible today when sex seems so glorified over the joy and delight that comes with sharing your life with friends.
How can the church help? Promote friendship as much as you talk about marriage. Friendships are so important – especially after marriage.
For the single person, friendships are an important source of intimacy. Make time for people, go for spontaneous meals, watch a film, have people over. The busyness of Singapore makes this difficult but we must overcome culture. What if we valued building relationships as much as we valued work? Maybe we’ll find that we do have time after all.
Maybe if we work through some of these things, in our own lives and with the help of our church family, a life of singleness is plausible after all.
It is a work in progress, as with all things. I find that pursuing God and choosing Him over all else helps me gain perspective in life. I still want to be married, and I still pray each day that I will be able to share in the joys that marriage brings.
But till then, I can trust and know that in God I am fully known and deeply loved. And in my church family, I can find friendship, love and encouragement.
This article was first published on Delphne’s blog and is republished with permission.