As a teenager, weddings held in church were great moments of thrill and anticipation for me. Pews decorated with ribbons and laces, flowers everywhere and trays of delicacies set on long tables lined with beautiful skirts.
And, of course, the red-carpeted aisle, down which the brides would walk in slow motion, steps in sync with the tune of the bridal march. Growing up on a considerable dosage of fairy-tales, I would imagine myself walking down the same aisle…someday.
Yes, like many others, I had believed that someday, somewhere, some church brother would come my way. But, years whisked past without my noticing. Friends who chattered with me excitedly at many weddings had their own weddings. One by one, they became immersed in their lives, with their special someone by their side.
And, one day, news had it that a former student from a religious education class I once taught got married. It was then the realization hit me: it’s time to count myself as having “missed the boat”, as some would put it. Girlish dreams of getting married were gradually replaced by practical and realistic plans on how to spend the rest of my life without a special someone.
When the request came for me to write an article on “singlehood,” my first reaction was to laugh. I wondered if I was seen as a “singlehood guru.” My mind conjured an image of myself sitting in the lotus pose in a cave somewhere, spouting gems of wisdom to young, wide-eyed would-be singles.
The truth of the matter is, I know little about singlehood! Yes, I am aware of my single status when most of my peers are married with kids. Nevertheless, there are far too many things about being single that I have not rationally thought through.
What does God say about staying single? Should there be a point when one should abandon hope of getting married? What advice does the Bible offer to singles? What would be a healthy approach to being a single Christian?
Those are questions I am still working on, with no sight of arriving at a verdict, if one exists. At any rate, a personal sharing of what I have experienced to date is all I dare to aspire to.
THE SCOPE OF DISCUSSION
Perhaps I should delineate the scope of “singlehood” for this article before going any further. The word “single” conventionally refers to the marital status of “not married.”
High school adolescents are not generally viewed as nor do they think of themselves as single, though they are not married. Unmarried young adults in their early to late twenties who are single are too young to lose hope that they will meet someone with whom to spend the rest of their lives.
Singlehood becomes a consideration and reality when you find yourself “single” while almost all of your peers have settled down and established their own families. In addition, you are resigned to the fact that the likelihood of your finding someone is low.
This is partly because the pool of potential partners decreases inversely with age after a certain point. Another reason, among others, is that you probably have moved on in life, ideally happy and settled at heart, and you no longer feel the inclination nor have the desire to engage in marital pursuits.
In any case, being single means you have grappled with the reality of being alone and know you face the potential of being so for the rest of your life.
THE GIFT OF MARRIAGE
God finished His creation in six days. “God saw everything He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen 1:31). However, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone, I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen 2:18).
Seeing that it was not good that Adam was alone, God made a woman, Eve, after all creation had been formed. Indisputably, the gift of marriage is a wonderful thing in the eyes of God.
The happiness God’s gift brought to Adam needs no further explanation, as evidenced by his response upon seeing Eve: “This now is the bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Marriage, handled well and cherished, is a many-splendored thing.
Growing up, I constantly heard people mention the “gift of singlehood.” Much of this kind of talk is based on Paul’s discourse in 1 Cor 7, where he is often cited as advocating singlehood.
He says, “I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress” (v.26). Upon closer examination, Paul’s case for singlehood appears to be a conditional one, in view of the “present distress” of his time.
In every age after the dawn of Christianity, believers have seen themselves to be living in the end times. It is no doubt the right attitude to have in order to be always prepared.
We may not know when the Lord’s second coming will be, but that surely does not preclude us from living our life on this earth and enjoying God’s gifts to us. There is no case here for total abstinence, such as rejecting marriage and embracing ascetic lives as hermits.
Apostle Paul provides an explanation for why he wishes “that all men were even as [himself]” (1 Cor 7:7). Here is his rationale: “he who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord, but he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife” (v. 32, 33).
Rather than simply concluding that singlehood is to be desired above marriage, a more positive approach to Paul’s view on singlehood is to read it in the light of what the Lord says: “And he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me”(Mt 10:37).
Marriage that takes you away from God is not good. In marriage, giving God first priority should be the guiding principle. Marriage in the Lord actually brings with it opportunities for personal growth and training in love. Having a spouse with whom to walk in faith is certainly a beautiful thing many married believers have come to appreciate.
Paul concedes, “Concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord” (1 Cor 7:25). Singlehood is not a “gift” in the same way the Holy Spirit is a gift. It should not be seen as something “predestined” by God. Whether one ends up single or not is often the result of an interplay of many different factors, not least one’s choices and one’s circumstances.
Whatever the process by which we end up single, we should not see singlehood as a bleak signal of the end of all joy in life. Singlehood can be an opportunity for drawing closer to God and appreciating the many wonders that God has granted His creation to experience.
Being single can also mean being spared of some of the burdens associated with marriage. Of course, singles should not cry “sour grapes” where marriage is concerned. There is beauty, of different natures perhaps, both in being married and being single.
Whether one is married or not, as children of God, we will be blessed as long as we keep His Word. And, seeking God and His righteousness should always be the first priority of our lives.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED
“Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
Bystanders cannot always fully understand the predicament of involved parties. I have come across comments made about certain singles, which are not necessarily fair judgments.
Very few singles I know are single by choice. Singles like us end up single because of various reasons. I know of a sister who missed her chance because throughout her “marriageable years”, she had to take care of her ailing father.
There are some who were never noticed by marriage counselors in church and never found someone in church who was attracted to them. Each single person has his/her own story.
Being single is not a transgression, and singles, albeit often misunderstood, should not feel stigmatized. It is so easy to simply say, “His (her) standards are too high, and that’s why he (she) is single now!”
There is a significant difference between being “choosy,” using worldly, non-biblical standards, and being wise enough to realize that a common church membership alone should not be the only criterion in choosing a spouse.
If you are single because you understand that marriage is not about closing one’s eyes and accepting just about anyone from church, you really should not be offended when non-sympathetic remarks are being made or when you are tagged with labels like “Mr. Choosy” or “Miss High-Criteria.”
While trying to affirm ourselves amid misunderstandings, we should also allow a bit of room for self-questioning. It is possible that singlehood may just be a transitional phase for us to re-think some of our values and expectations that may not be in conjunction with what God wants us to look for in a spouse.
This column has run several good articles advising singles on how to “find the right one” according to the will of the Lord. With agreement to most of the messages, I leave it to my fellow single brothers and sisters to read them.
The take-home message is that we should reverently seek God’s guidance through prayer, if we have not already done so. For all you know, the moment you forsake those expectations that God had not intended for you to have, then—voila!—you find your Adam or Eve standing right in front of you.
Lonely but Never Alone
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And, there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps 73:25, 26)
Singlehood is a very lonely experience. For many, it is not an unfamiliar experience to come home to an empty apartment. Buying groceries and making dinner for just one person can sometimes give you an ineffable feeling of being forlorn and forgotten.
There have been times of sickness or deep sorrow when I longed for a hug from somebody, but no one was readily available to listen or give me a hug. In those moments, God and God alone was all I could turn to.
Many parents wish to see their children married for fear that their beloved children would have to live life all alone. My father always tells me he is worried that I will be all alone in this world after he and my mother pass away.
When he tells me such things, my heart breaks. But, I also wish so much that he would understand my conviction about God’s abidance, as long as I hold fast to His commandments and grace.
Having established that singlehood can be really lonely, I have to say that being single has compelled me to rely on God more than I would have if I always had someone to turn to.
The graphic on the cover of a planner I had some years ago showed a lonesome little lamb seated on a rock by itself. But, in the reflection from the stream beneath the rock, there was the little lamb and someone else by its side—the Shepherd. Indeed, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps 23:1). Simple basic truth. Great profound assurance.
God’s providence also comes in the form of people who show practical care and concern. Being single has taught me to learn to receive love and kindness from concerned parties.
On festive occasions, counting invitations from church members alone, I am always “double-booked,” if not more. Coming from a small church with merely a few families, it is amazing how I am invited by so many families to spend holidays with them.
It is a wonderful feeling, knowing that brethren in church are making an effort to make sure singles like me feel less lonely.
Though I have shared much about how singlehood can be a blessing, I do not think anyone should look forward to being single. Singlehood ought to be unintentional or born of necessity.
It is important for singles to plan on being happy and living a secure life without a significant other. Single or not, if we keep ourselves pure and true towards God, then all things will work out for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). However, we should always keep a little bit of our hearts open to possible surprises from God.
If anyone has a wish to be married, it is actually a beautiful thing. For “he who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov 18:22). I suppose the same can be said about finding a husband.
As mature adults, we should have the capability to take care of our own affairs—instead of relying on others. Singles should not passively sit and wait for God to drop their spouses from the sky. Neither should they shirk responsibility for their own happiness and leave it completely to marriage counselors in church to find someone for them.
It is well and good if there are resources in church to help us in “the search.” But happiness lies in both God’s and our hands. Whatever we do, folding our hands and waiting passively is not going to help God answer our prayers.
I’ll end by dedicating a song to the single readers out there. Many years ago, a teacher taught me this song and told me I should always have faith that God has prepared someone for me. Here’s part of the song: “Someday, somewhere, someone beyond compare, will come your way, forever more to stay…You prayed so long, when you were very young, you prayed that God will keep him/her pure and sweet. And you’ll know, God made him/her, and you’ll know God made him/her just for you.”