I’m just going to say it: Singleness is hard.
I don’t love it. I get lonely. I wonder about my future. I wish for a husband and a family. Basically, I want to be a wife and a mom- and I’m not. But what I’ve come to realize lately is that I don’t have to apologize for that. It is a Godly desire, and as long as I seek contentment and sanctification in this current season of singleness, and run from self-pity, control, and discontentment then there is no need for me to feel bad or embarrassed or timid about my desire for marriage and family.
When I say “singleness is hard” I am not saying in contrast that “marriage is easy”. I don’t really know how this happened, but somewhere along the way we as a Christian culture decided that either marriage is hard OR singleness is hard, but certainly not both. If you’re married and a single person remarks how hard it is to be single, what’s the typical response? “Enjoy your singleness now, because once you’re married you will wish you had those days of singleness back!” Or when a married person complains about the difficulty of marriage or dealing with children the usual inward response (because there is no way that I would actually say to a married person how much I wish I was married or had small children) is “I want that, despite the difficulty you are describing, I still want to be married and have a family!” Why do we do that? Why do we pit marriage and singleness against each other? Either marriage is elevated as the end-all-be-all pinnacle of life, and the blessing of being single is overlooked. Or singleness is to be praised above all else, and marriage, although still good, is only described in terms of conflict, difficulty, loss of freedom, and inconvenience. Can I just go ahead and say that I think both are really really really good? And I think Jesus thinks they are too.
Paul talks about singleness, and in some ways he sounds like he falls into the camp of “singleness is better than marriage”. But that is really a myopic view of the singleness vs. marriage issue. When Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7, he isn’t simply elevating one “season of life” over another. If you read all of Paul’s other writings, you will see over and over again that everything he does is for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, NOT about the relational status of being single or being married. His point in 1 Corinthians 7 is if you have the gift of celibacy (meaning you can successfully abstain of sexual temptation without being undone by it) you are more useful to the work of the gospel than someone who is married or in sexual sin. Remember: in Paul’s writings, everything is about furthering the gospel! Paul also talks about marriage as being a picture of Christ and the church and how beautiful and remarkable that is. So which is it Paul? Which is better? Marriage or singleness? I think if we were to walk up to him today and ask him, point blank, I think his response would be something along the lines of “Your relationship status doesn’t really matter to me, what matters is your ability and willingness to share the gospel. So will you be more useful for the kingdom as a single person or a married person?”
Are you looking around at your life and saying, essentially, “I wish things were different.” Whether in a season of singleness looking ahead to marriage, or in a season of marriage looking back to the coveted days of singleness (or pre-kids), if we take our eyes off the present and forget to be thankful for both the joys and difficulties of our present season, we will never be content. I think it is easy as a single person to idealize marriage and to falsely think that all my issues of loneliness and discontentment will disappear when I get married and that all my hopes and dreams will be fulfilled! If you express that to any married person they will (rightly) laugh in your face. Single friends- how about instead of dreaming about the idealized, fantasy version of marriage, let’s take to heart the experiences of our married friends and start dreaming about the challenge, the mess, the beauty, the sanctification, the difficulty, and the opportunity to serve that is REAL marriage. And married friends, instead of minimizing the desire of your single friends to be married simply because marriage is hard, encourage contentment in their season of singleness, but also seek to express the joys and wonder you find in marriage and parenthood. Both seasons come with difficulty and a great temptation for discontentment, but one is not better than the other. The reality is that if we focus too much on “being single” or “being married” we are focusing on ourselves and forgetting the kingdom work we are called to, and that is to share the gospel.
Singleness is hard and marriage is hard. Why? Because this side of eternity, life is hard. Our world is broken and wrought with sin. Relationships are hard and messy because we are constantly confronted with our selfishness and sinful desires. There is no season of life that is not fundamentally hard and not in desperate need of Christ and the grace of the gospel. The level of difficulty of life should not effect our pursuit of contentment and righteousness. So marrieds and singles, let’s remember that we are on the same team, living in the same broken world, with more similarities than we realize- namely our sin and need of Christ’s work on the cross which Paul was so completely committed to. Let’s learn from one another and spur one another on towards love and good deeds no matter what our relational status. Whether we are married or single, and whether we are content being married or single, we can seek grace, contentment, joy, encouragement, and strength together, at the foot of the cross.