Singleness and Scripture
What the Bible really says about those who aren't married
I had the privilege of speaking at a church last Mother's Day. I felt privileged, because any time I'm able to talk about Jesus is a treat. But I also felt uncomfortable, because I'm over 40, single, and childless. Mother's Day is a celebration earmarked for minivan–driving women with a gaggle of children—not women like me. The day's meant for women who woke up to a lovely breakfast prepared by a doting husband—not women who woke up alone at the Fairfield Inn. The holiday's for women whose adorable children made clay handprints engraved with "I love you, Mom," in Sunday school—not women whose only Creative Memories' subjects are pets. To say I felt a little out of place is an understatement.
Although being single in America no longer is atypical (the latest U.S. census reveals more single/ divorced/widowed women than married ones), in the Christian subculture, singleness often seems an anomaly. I can't count how many times church people have awkwardly asked me, "Do you have any children?" or "Where's your husband?" My favorite answer is, "My future husband's lost and won't stop to ask for directions." The quip usually prompts giggles and diverts attention from my lackluster dating life.
Sometimes I wonder if myths about Christians and singleness contribute to making women without a diamond ring on their left hand feel like misfits. Let's look at some of the faulty theology surrounding singleness, and get the Bible's actual take on the subject.
Myth #1: Since the Bible says God is our husband (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14), an earthly spouse isn't really necessary.
Well, let's not cancel the eHarmony membership quite yet. The Hebrew word for husband refers more to God as someone who rules over his people than to someone who does the heavy lifting and leaves wet towels on the bathroom floor.
While Scripture often uses marriage as a metaphor to describe our relationship with God, this spiritual reality doesn't negate most women's desire for a flesh–and–blood husband. It also behooves us to remember God designed marriage at the beginning of human history, when he created Eve for Adam. Marriage isn't a consolation prize meant for people who don't "have the goods" to go it alone.
Myth #2: Since, according to the apostle Paul, singleness is a desirable gift (1 Corinthians 7), spiritually mature single Christian women should fully—and joyfully—embrace it.
I consider singleness a "gift" when I can sleep in while my mom friends drive carpool in their pajamas; when I have the liberty to choose taking a meandering hike over doing laundry; and especially when I can stay preoccupied with a really cool Scripture passage instead of get pulled away by the responsibility of fixing dinner for a family. This final benefit is the reason most Bible scholars say Paul enthused about singleness. Simply put, freedom from the earthly needs of a spouse and children typically affords us more uninterrupted time to focus on our Redeemer.
Paul also penned this passage during a season of "great distress" (1 Corinthians 7:26), or scary spiritual persecution. So he emphasized being married under such circumstances would only increase the burden, since enduring pain alone is often easier than watching loved ones suffer, too.
Some Christians do sincerely believe they possess the "gift" of singleness (both missionary Amy Carmichael and Mother Teresa felt called to singleness and celibacy). But in light of the context of 1 Corinthians, I think Paul's goal was to advocate practicality rather than to grant singleness special status. Perhaps we should stop viewing singleness as the gift, and recognize the true prize—undistracted devotion to God.
Myth #3: Since God promises us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4), he'll give a husband to a woman who truly desires one.
This perverted premise always gets to me. "Cutting and pasting" a biblical verse or passage to prove a point is foolish (the fancy terminology for this practice is proof–texting). One of my favorite theologians, D.A. Carson, wisely stated, "Any text without a context is merely a pretext for a proof–text." In other words, if we don't look at the whole biblical picture, we can easily distort the meaning and application of God's Word. And, unfortunately, too often we twist "He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4) into a depiction of God as fairy godmother.
However, when King David wrote those words, he wasn't implying God would wave a magic wand and make all our dreams come true. We won't get a husband or a high metabolism just by wishing! Instead, this shepherd–boy–turned–king was exulting in the heavenly Father's provision and protection extended to faithful believers. Thus David prefaced the "gimmie" phrase with an admonition to trust and delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:3-4a). This verse doesn't mean we'll always get what we want, but it does mean we can trust God to give us what ultimately will be for our good and his glory.
Myth #4: Since the Bible says we're to be content in all circumstances (Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:6-8), God won't provide singles with a mate until they're totally satisfied with singleness.
Christ–followers obviously should seek to be at peace with whatever their circumstances, but total contentment probably isn't attainable this side of heaven. I thoroughly enjoy my life most days and love Jesus with all the devotion my crooked little heart can muster, but I'm still not completely satisfied while eating a Lean Cuisine and watching a DVD by myself on Valentine's Day. Sometimes I want to share this stuff with a man—preferably a godly guy with a booming laugh, a generous heart, and an aversion to hair gel! I'm not necessarily restless in my relationship with the Lord; I'm simply human.
In my experience, no matter on which side of the marital fence we're standing, the grass typically looks greener in the other field. Single women tend to think a good man could solve most of their problems, and married women tend to think the he–doesn't–look–so–hot–now guy they married causes most of their problems. In both cases, we give men—present or absent—too much responsibility in our lives. No man's heart is big enough to meet all our emotional needs. A man's shoulders aren't broad enough to bear all our burdens. Contrary to the story line of ripped–bodice romance novels, no human male (or pirate) will ever meet all our expectations all the time.
Single, married, widowed, and divorced women aren't all that different. No matter what our marital status is, if we've put our hope in Jesus Christ, we're God's beloved. We're the apple of his eye. He delights to call all of us his: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1b; italics added).
So if we ever meet at church, for goodness' sake, don't tell me that I'll find a husband when I'm finally content, or that I should joyfully accept the gift of singleness. Instead, ask to hear my story, then sit back and enjoy the ride! Because even if our marital status differs, we still have a lot in common.
Written by Lisa Harper
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