“You must be learning so much! All my newlywed friends say that they learn so much about the Lord through marriage!”
The girl looked earnestly at me, her face alight with congratulations. Having been a single girl until my late twenties — when now, yes, I am a newlywed — I could read the wistfulness behind the congratulations, the little ache behind her sincere joy for us.
I know those things that you hear from your married friends: that there is nothing like marriage to show you your own sinfulness, or the depth of God’s love, or any number of other lessons. That there is nothing like marriage to sanctify you and make you more Christ-like.
And, yes, I have been learning things in my scant months of being a wife. So I could smile and say “yes” to the girl’s implied question. But I didn’t stop at yes. There was more that needed saying.
Because it can feel, as a single person, that you’re not only shut out from life’s closest relationship, but that you’re also shut out from life’s most valuable lessons, belonging to a second-tier of Christianity — someone who simply can’t be as holy as your married counterparts.
You Aren’t Missing Out
I felt it over several years of not being married. People would say things — with sincerity and not intending to wound — about the goodness of marriage, about its sanctifying lessons, and I would wonder, If that is true, then why don’t I get to participate in that? If marriage is the best way to learn about God, why am I shut out from that?
Even now, married as I am, I wince a little inside when I hear people say those things: “Is marriage or children more sanctifying?” And I want to argue with them: Each new thing God brings, by his grace, sanctifies us more and more. But it isn’t a question of one thing being more sanctifying than another. If you aren’t married, or if you don’t have children, he’ll be sanctifying you through other means.
So I am confident of this: You aren’t missing out on any needful lessons. I wasn’t before; I’m not now. Here’s how I know.
Promises for the Single and Married
Most of the promises in Scripture are directed at all of God’s people, not a subset of married or single people. “In the resurrection,” Jesus says, “they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). We’re all resurrection-bound, and the resurrection makes marriage obsolete.
Paul is writing to a whole church — presumably of married and unmarried people — when he says, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Your sanctification is God’s will. Whether you are married or unmarried, God wills to sanctify you, to make you more holy, more Christ-like. And he does it.
He is not somehow limiting your sanctification because of your singleness. He does not withhold holiness if — for a time or forever — he withholds a husband (or any of the other things on which you may set your hope).
Peter, again writing to believers collectively, not a married subset, assures them that “[God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).
God has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness — through the knowledge of him who called us, not through variable life circumstances. And again Paul assures us “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Taught Through the Spirit and Word
If there are lessons that you need to learn in order for that good work to be completed, for you to bear Christ’s image, rest assured that God will teach you those lessons.
He will teach you using the circumstances at hand in your life: your singleness or your marriage, your contentment or your wistfulness. And he will teach you using the tools he designed for the task: his Spirit and his word.
Christ promised that his Spirit would “guide you into all the truth” and a little later said that “[God’s] word is truth” (John 16:13; 17:17). And Paul assured Timothy that “all Scripture . . . breathed out by God . . . [is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” — why? — “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Complete, through the Word, not through marriage.
The same tools of sanctification which God used before I was married are the ones he uses now. I haven’t found any new wellspring of holiness since being married. And many of the struggles are the same.
Single and Married Identity Crisis
As a “single,” I struggled, wondering how to identify myself in a world full of “marrieds.” But then I got married, and all my comfortable identifiers — my long-held name, my familiar home, my dearly loved job — were stripped away, and there I was wondering again who I was. In both cases, before marriage and now, my identity is only safe with Christ — and I learn that through the comfort of his Word and the assurance of his Spirit.
So, dear believer, whatever your walk of life, if you feel in need of lessons, ask for the Spirit to help you, dive into the Word, and trust that your “Father who is in heaven” is not withholding anything needful, but will “give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
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