I was an awkward preteen.
I had knobby knees and razor-sharp elbows. My baggy clothes were a style of my own invention — part soccer mom, part hippie-poet. I wore my flat-ironed hair in a mountain of curls achieved by nightly roller sets.
My homeschooled self had friends who accepted me for the dork that I was, but I yearned to be cool — High-School-Musical or That’s-So-Raven cool. So, that day at my co-op where one of the cool kids waved at me, I raised my left hand to wave back as enthusiastically as humanly possible: eyes wide, braces flashing, right hand pushing my glasses up my nose. It had happened! She had noticed me! I was in!
“Hi, Sarah!” she called to the girl behind me.
I awkwardly lowered my hand just as she turned back to give me a look of pure pity.
Rarely has my social life since reached the level of humiliation and isolation I felt at that moment — except, perhaps, as an adult single.
Being single is hard.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 7 that it’s a blessing, and we know God’s word to be true. In a world where dating and marriage can seem like the norm, being the loner has its great difficulties. Singles might be freer to serve the Lord than their married counterparts, but they often have to juggle that service with life in the dating world.
At its best, dating in Christian circles can be the beautiful exploration of a friendship that blossoms into something more. It can be rooted in mutual respect, grounded in the community of faith, and steeped in prayer and growth.
At its worst, it can be an absolute nightmare as a friendship is torpedoed by unrealistic expectations and entitlement. It can be rooted in mutual selfishness, grounded in loneliness, and steeped in bitter disappointment.
We all have heard the war stories of singleness — many of us have shared such stories ourselves. The battle wounds can range from little nicks that turn into nothing more than the funny story of a failed date, to near-fatal stabs of disappointed dreams.
One of the most helpful tools in the arsenal of surviving Christian singleness is being anchored in Christian community. But far too often, that community is lacking in the interest of pivotal members: the married folks.
“God Will Provide”
Often, when singles and the married gather around to trade war stories and encouragement, the married folks smile vacantly, shrug their shoulders, and suffer traumatic memory loss: “You simply have to trust God,” they may say, closing themselves off and pulling their cool kid status. “He’ll bring your husband in his due time.”
Now, this is completely accurate. God supplies all of our needs, and if marriage is one of his plans for us, he will provide a spouse in due time, which is his perfect time. But the common expression of this truth is akin to a pastor getting up to preach a sermon, reading one verse out of context, and then sitting down and patting himself on the back for having led his flock.
Where are all of the married people willing to get their hands dirty in the lives of their not-yet-married siblings in Christ?
When I was single, I remember thinking they were few and far in between. Blessedly, I have parents who have been thriving in marriage since I can remember — but the marrieds nearer to my age seemed more interested in flaunting their married status than walking through life with me. My struggles with rejection, contentment, and belonging were of no interest to them. They could not commiserate with me beyond saying, “God is good. He will bring your spouse,” and then essentially walking away.
“Can’t Sit with Us”
Not only did it seem like they didn’t want to take an active role in my life, but they also didn’t want me to be involved in theirs. As far as I knew, marriage was a form of utopia where all heartache died. Friends who used to confide their hopes and dreams in me when they were single no longer appeared interested in fellowshipping with me on that intimate level once they were married.
Now, as a newlywed, I’m learning it can be difficult to balance just how much of our marriages we should share with other people. There is a steep learning curve when it comes to being vulnerable enough to stay in community with other believers, but private enough to protect our spouse. But that tightrope is worth learning to walk.
Paul was single when he wrote Ephesians 5. And, yes, he wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; but the same Spirit resides in us and enables us to understand and encourage others with that text, whether single or married. I have single friends who have offered me just as much encouragement and insight when it comes to loving my husband as my married friends have — and it all started with me letting them into the real details of my life. I had to erase the idea that single people are second-class citizens who aren’t as spiritually mature as the married folks.
Come to the Table
Married brothers and sisters, I encourage you to offer your single siblings a seat at the table. Empathize with their struggles. Speak good news to them, not in passing phrases, but in a rooted relationship. Give them opportunities to preach that same gospel to you, not over your perfect new life as a married person, but as a fellow sinner in need of encouragement and grace.
We are one body in Christ, not two. Singleness is not the introductory level to Christianity; marriage is not Christianity 2.0. We all are progressing, too often with painful slowness, in our walks with Jesus. Some of us are being sanctified by singleness, others are being sanctified by spouses, but we all need each other to grow.