When more teaching and energy are aimed at godly marriage and parenting than any other stage of life, when people continue to use the language of choice to describe the single state (despite the fact that most of us are not single by choice), when single people are viewed as inherently less-mature than married people or in need of sympathy because of their marital state, when chastity is primarily taught as saying no to intimacy, I think it’s safe to say the church needs to grow in painting a better, more biblical vision for the lives of unmarried people in the church, especially in the 21st century where romantic love is seen as the pinnacle, even the purpose of human existence, and yet where we are more isolated from community than perhaps at any other time in history.
A person who got married at 18 or 20 or 24 doesn’t know what it’s like to be 32 and single any more than I know what it’s like to be 40 and married with four kids. Just because every human has at some point in the past been unmarried doesn’t mean they have some kind of window into the struggles of people who have been unmarried while desiring marriage for ten, fifteen, twenty years — THAT is my reality, and I need to know what it looks like to live out the gospel in my life. Married folks and parents get that message all the time — thank God! But we need it too, and we need a bigger, more beautiful picture than “don’t have sex until you’re married.” The scriptures present that picture, and if we are committed to teaching the whole counsel of God, we need to lift those life-giving truths up to EVERYONE who is suffering because of where they are in life, including unmarried people.
Just as an example: my best friend hasn’t been “single” in a meaningful way since she started dating her now-husband when they were both in high school. Now, our struggles, though they don’t seem externally the same, often reveal similar besetting sins and heart issues: we’re both learning about trusting God’s total control over and loving care for our lives, I through dealing with loneliness and depression, she in other ways, but the lesson is the same. In the broader church, how many resources are available to her, to help her see how God is at work in her marriage, to remind her of the sacredness of her calling right now, to give her resources to be a godly wife and mother? Countless! One problem she faces in her stage of life is that there are too many voices competing for her attention, from the pulpit and elsewhere, and it can be overwhelming. A big problem in my case? Silence. Or nothing more than a “no.” Or a reminder to be patient, together with a tentative encouragement to join eHarmony. To paraphrase Chesterton, we cannot be expected to build our lives around a negation, an absence — especially when the messages to our married friends and friends with kids seems to be by contrast a life built around love and intimacy. Is it any wonder so many of my unmarried friends have contemplated becoming single parents, or even marrying unbelievers?
What I need help with from the church, from my pastors and from my brothers and sisters, is in seeing how the vision God has for me right now in my life. Maybe God has called me to lifelong singleness, or maybe not — that question’s pretty irrelevant, honestly, since I can’t know the future — but God has a purpose for me right now regardless, and I have an obligation to live a godly life right now regardless. I need God’s people to be faithful to show me and other single people how to do that, how to see God’s purposes in my life, how to live a godly life now.
When I call for the church — especially my married friends and particularly married pastors — to be more faithful in how they present the truly good news of the gospel to unmarried people, how they portray the single life, how they view the sacred calling of chastity, I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m pleading with my brothers and sisters to see me as a valuable member of God’s church now, worth the time to work out what it looks like for me to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel now, cherished enough to come alongside with a fiery, countercultural vision of Christian virtue in a season of celibacy, in just the same way that we are already committed to seeing stay-at-home moms as valuable members of God’s church, that we work out what it looks like for fathers and husbands to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, that we come alongside couples with a fiery, countercultural vision of Christian virtue in marriage.
And please trust that I’m not just sitting on the sidelines telling YOU what YOU have to do. I want to be used by God to change the way at least my little corner of modern evangelicalism loves unmarried people of every age. But as members of one body, we have the joyful obligation to join with one another — even those whose lives look so different from ours — in our triumphs and sorrows. I join with you, married brothers and sisters. I join with you, faithful parents. Will you join with me?