Singleness

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By Ellie Corrow

Most children, especially girls, assume they will one day grow up, get married, and start a family. This is a dream that is not qualified with an “if” but a “when” and a goal that marks an unequivocal entrance into adulthood. Some people have no trouble achieving this, meeting the right person at the right time, and no one’s timeline suffers accommodation and adjustment. But, others don’t have this experience, instead they wait, and wait, vaguely wondering if they are running out of time, if there is someone out there for them.

It’s a difficult place to be in, when life doesn’t work out as you expected. Remaining single, despite your best efforts, can be especially hard for many reasons—you feel like you are still waiting for life to start, many (or all) of your friends are married, and much in the church and the culture seems to assume that singleness is brokenness that requires some kind of fix. It’s too easy to wonder if you really are defective, too picky, too introverted, too… fill in the blank.

In response to this comes the well-meaning parent, friend, aunt, church member who assures you that God has just the right person out there for you. This where a steady diet of romantic comedies meets theology, and one wonders if today is the day you will spill your latte on a hot, single, Lutheran guy, who was waiting for a girl such as you.

I wish I could tell you that God has the perfect person out there for you, and He is carefully orchestrating your life, so you will not only meet him, but so you will be completely prepared for life with him when he comes along, but I can’t. Scripture nowhere promises us spouses, or children, or houses with white picket fences. It’s a hard word, I know, but bear with me, this isn’t a time for vacuous platitudes, this is a time to look to the truth of God’s Word, and the good, gracious promises we are given.

What does Scripture say about being single? Scripture says that it is a good thing (1 Cor 7:8), Paul even goes so far as to say that he wishes people would remain single, as he is. Wait, what? How can this be a good thing when it feels like a trial? I bet you’re thinking that the “gift of singleness” is for people who don’t want to be married, but you do, so you don’t have that gift. Actually, no. A gift isn’t defined by how we feel about it, its status as gift is assigned by the giver. A gift is a gift because it has been freely given, without any merit or worthiness on your part. Does this mean it’s forever? No. Lutheranism does not have an office of celibacy, and your current singleness does not mean you have been called to reject all future suitors, it simply means that right now, for a spell, you have been given this gift. You know this because you are not married. It’s really that simple. No tea leaves, no chicken guts, just good, old-fashioned vocation.

How can this be a gift? Just because you’re single, it doesn’t mean you don’t have neighbors, it simply means that, quite possibly, you do not have the neighbors you wish you had. Another tough point, and I’m sorry to lay this on you, but we do not serve hypothetical neighbors, we serve real, flesh and blood neighbors who are in front of us. Life doesn’t always give us the neighbors we wish we had, instead it gives us sinners in need of our love and service. All of our vocations, whether as spouse, mother, deaconess, or corporate lawyer, provide us with the opportunity to serve under the cross, in the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ. Because you are single, you now have greater opportunity and flexibility to serve those around you.

But, but, but… I still don’t like it. Okay, let’s try a different approach, shall we? Let’s change the circumstances a bit, and pretend you are married, and your spouse is perfectly adequate, but isn’t quite everything you dreamed of, and, well, you just don’t want to be married to him anymore. Does this mean God has not given you the gift of a spouse? No. You know you have the gift of a spouse because, well, you have a spouse. Or what if your children aren’t Pinterest perfect (hard to imagine, I know), and you’re left wounded by their selfishness, faithlessness, and general rotten sinful selves, does this mean you get to decide to stop being their parent? No, of course not. It is the same for you, as you struggle to make sense of your status as a single person—it is, for now, your vocation, one to be embraced, accepted as a good gift of our gracious God, in which you’re given to walk as a baptized and redeemed sinner.

So does all this mean you should not desire marriage and family? No, of course not. These are also good things. Feel free to utilize online dating, get yourself out to singles groups, pay attention when a friend says she has a friend who would be perfect for you. Marriage is also a good thing, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, you’re free to pursue it in whatever way best suits you. Do not, however, wait to start your life until you find Mr. (or Mrs.) Right, your vocation is where you are at, thank God for it, see the ways in which you may serve, and go in the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ.

I know I make this sound easy, but in those dark days, where you resent what He calls a gift, go to Him in prayer. Though He has not promised you a perfect spouse, He has promised to hear those prayers, to provide everything you need to support this body and life, to never leave you or forsake you, and to forgive all your sins. I know you often feel alone, but you are never alone, even the single person is united with Christ in baptism, joins in the whole company of heaven at the Lord’s altar, and if that is not enough, there are plenty of neighbors who would benefit from your gifts—the elderly, the homebound, the widow, the lonely outcast, the recently-divorced co-worker who wants someone to join her in margaritas.

The whole body of Christ aches in this vale of tears, you are not the only one suffering, but we bear one another’s burdens in prayer, acts of charity, hospitality, and mercy. As you bear this burden, know that you do not walk alone, as you carry another’s burden, so they also carry yours. Avail yourself of the body, let saints in your congregation hear your doubts, fears, and let them pray for you, as you would also joyfully do for them. Because, as we come to grips with our weakness, our fears, and our doubts, a funny thing happens, Christ takes our heart of stone, perhaps even our idolatry of family life, and gives us a heart of flesh, not because we followed the right program, but because weak, frightened lambs are the specialty of the Good Shepherd, who lays down the life for His sheep. Even the single ones.

Photo credit to Lendl Peralta. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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Comments

Singleness — 15 Comments

  1. Inability to find a suitable spouse is a great loss in life. The church needs to be of more assistance to single college students and single young adults in their 20’s, assisting them with finding a good man or woman. Activities need to be planned that are attractive to this age group and these young adults should be encouraged to participate. Dr. Martin Luther arranged for all the nuns who escaped to be married. He set a good example that the church today should somewhat be following. Of course, arranged marriages aren’t well accepted today, but the church can do a whole lot better job arranging opportunities for single older adolescents and young adults, as well as still single middle aged adults, to meet and let God take it from there. Education also should be part of this, young men and young women need to realize that Jesus Christ and the Blessed Mother Mary are not available for marriage, so do not expect to get perfection, but accept each other as imperfect human beings in need of mercy and love.

  2. I appreciate the conversational style that speaks directly to the reader like a close friend. I also enjoy the confidence with which the author writes. Rich theology at eye level, with a knowing gaze and a warm smile.

  3. @Marilyn Rittmeyer #1

    Marilyn,

    Thank you for your comments and I hope you found the post edifying. I wanted to take a second to respond, because I think what you’ve expressed is a rather common viewpoint. First, I’d like to point out that in Luther’s day, clerical celibacy was elevated as a higher, holier lifestyle, so, in a sense, he had to react strongly against celibacy, not because it is wrong, but because of the religious context that defined it. This is no longer the case in our circles, as marriage is often elevated in Christian circles, perhaps even higher than singleness. I don’t think singles groups designed to get folks to meet and marry are inherently wrong, and if people want them, want to organize and attend them, more power to them, but I do worry that they risk sending the message that singlehood is something to be “fixed.” It’s not. Scripture speaks positively of the single life. That doesn’t mean it is easy, and that doesn’t mean one should reject marriage. We’re free to marry, we’re free not to marry. But I do speak as one who would never attend such a group, frankly I can’t think of much more mortifying than such a gathering, so I realize I speak from my own bias. However, I will say, without equivocation, that the church’s job is not to play matchmaker, her job is, through the pastor she has called, to administer the Lord’s forgiveness, grace, and salvation to sinners, single or married.

  4. ellie, you’re awesome! Thanks for your beautiful words…. Next time you’re in Victoria, BC let’s get margaritas!!! Blessings <

  5. Thanks Ellie, GREAT ARTICLE, very encouraging & thoughtful words about singleness! As a 50+ single woman I love the idea of viewing it as “a gift” from God, no matter the yearnings of the heart…. Finding JOY in the Journey! Blessings & Happy Trails. Trisha

  6. @Ellie #4

    However, I will say, without equivocation, that the church’s job is not to play matchmaker, …

    It’s not “the church’s job” to provide a social group for the married (primarily) but we assume LWML or “Ladies’ Aid” and often see “men’s breakfast” or “men’s night out” (with alcohol and cigars).

    One church my daughter belonged to revolved around its school and the school socials. Singles, (unless teachers), were tolerated on Sunday morning. [LWML invited her,…not to join them…, but to send money!]

    The nearby church’s “singles’ club” was not an alternative either, being primarily a group of divorced women circling around a divorced pastor.
    [When he re-married [someone from out of town], a number of the single women transferred their membership almost immediately.] ;\

    If high school and college age people were encouraged to seek partners who had the same values regarding church that they had themselves, there might be happier marriages and perhaps more Lutherans. Not only would it be better if we remembered our grandmothers’ advice and Lutherans married Lutherans, but every Sunday Lutherans who pair with “C&E” types, (even if Lutheran) are setting themselves up for grief.

    BTW, do you assume that most of your readership is young? Because there is a whole lot of “singleness” out there, which Paul also addressed: i.e., widows and the deserted.
    [Widowers don’t seem to stay single very long, but that’s a limited observation. And this blog is not aimed at men.]

  7. I think this article falls woefully short of what the Bible and the Confessions actually say on this topic. The bible does not speak of a “gift of singleness.” It does, however, talk about the “gift of celibacy,” which is something that very few people (like St. Paul) have. These are the people Jesus calls “eunuchs for the sake of the Gospel” in St. Matthew 19. Everyone who is not married does NOT fall into this category; the Apology of the Augsburg Confession makes this interpretation very clear:

    “If continence were possible to all, it would not require a peculiar gift. But Christ shows that it has need of a peculiar gift; therefore it does not belong to all. God wishes the rest to use the common law of nature which He has instituted. For God does not wish His ordinances, His creations to be despised. He wishes men to be chaste in this way, that they use the remedy divinely presented, just as He wishes to nourish our life in this way, that we use food and drink. Gerson also testifies that there have been many good men who endeavored to subdue the body, and yet made little progress. Accordingly, Ambrose is right in saying: Virginity is only a thing that can be recommended, but not commanded; it is a matter of vow rather than of precept. If any one here would raise the objection that Christ praises those which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, Matt. 19:12, let him also consider this, that He is praising such as have the gift of continence; for on this account He adds: He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Ap XXIII:19-21).

  8. (Just to note, the “ordinance,” “creation,” and “remedy divinely presented” that the Apology is talking about i the Estate of Marriage.)

  9. @helen #7

    Helen,

    I’m just reading the comments of others and don’t have much to say in response to what you’ve written. But I did want to thank you for speaking honestly about the interpersonal relationships and group dynamics that actually govern many churches. I’d like to see more such discussion. I’d be interested in any links or recommendations for books, websites, and so on you might offer that deal with such matters.

  10. I am not convinced that being single gives one a “greater” opportunity to serve others. I would proffer that it offers a “different” opportunity. However, whenever I read about singleness, I so often read about how singles are available to serve others, not how others can serve singles. Being single means that you are the only one to manage and upkeep your household and to handle all the legal, financial, medical, professional, etc. concerns in your life. There is no one to share the burden or to help with the problems. The way I like to sum the single life is that you are the only one to take out the trash. Always. Yet somehow being single means that you have more time to serve others and that you will not be in need of being served yourself.

    I would also like to add that, as a single female, the emphasis on faith being lived out through being a wife and a mother in the Lutheran church is difficult to take and oft leaves me feeling as if I have failed somehow in being a Christian. Being part of a family is so lauded, but we live in a broken world where not everyone has positive or healthful or helpful familial relationships. I often wonder what place there is for me, the older single woman, in the Lutheran Church. Coming from the evangelical world, I love the pure and true doctrine, but I care not for what Lance Brown summed as “the interpersonal relationships and group dynamics that actually govern many churches.”

    I am thankful, though, for Ellie’s positive words about being single and pointing out Scripture does not mark singleness as bad. And I especially like her noting that marriage is not a biblical promise. Helpful, too, is her comment addressing Luther’s emphasis on combating the elevation of celibacy over marriage to round out the historical perspective on his own efforts to help nuns marry.

    Finally, this! This bears repeating: “Because, as we come to grips with our weakness, our fears, and our doubts, a funny thing happens, Christ takes our heart of stone, perhaps even our idolatry of family life, and gives us a heart of flesh, not because we followed the right program, but because weak, frightened lambs are the specialty of the Good Shepherd, who lays down the life for His sheep. Even the single ones.”

  11. Lutheran churches are closing in my area (northern IL) and the expectation per a recent article by the district president is that 100’s, perhaps over 1000, of LCMS churches nationwide are going to close in the next few decades. If the LCMS wants to thrive in future centuries, she had better start doing a better job courting her young adults so that they stop marrying outside the Lutheran church and joining other churches.

  12. @Ellie #13

    There actually is a difference between celibacy and chastity. Celibacy is abstinence from marriage. Chastity is abstinence from extra-marital sex. Everyone is called to chastity. Only “eunuchs are for the sake of the Gospel” (St. Matthew 19). This is the Confessional definition, at any rate, which we all subscribe to.

  13. (sorry, meant to say “Only ‘eunuchs for the sake of the Gospel’ are called to celibacy” (St. Matthew 19).”)

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