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For a lot of us who are single in the church, it’s easy to believe that singleness is all about waiting. That’s what the slogans seem to say: “True love waits.” “Wait on God’s timing.” “I’m waiting for the right person to come along.” So we hang around, like cocooned caterpillars, wondering when we’ll finally break free from singleness so our wings can sprout and our real lives can begin.
But whether we eventually get married or not, confusing singleness with waiting is dangerous for all of us. It can fool us into believing that our primary job as singles is to pass the time until we get our wedding rings. As if it’s only in marriage that our lives can finally begin to tell the gospel story.
In Matthew 28, Jesus entrusts his followers with a Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). What if we singles read those words as an invitation to us, now, in the midst of our singleness, to make a difference this summer?
When married folks learn that I’m single, they sometimes give me a wistful smile and an ominous benediction: “All that freedom… enjoy it while it lasts.”
It’s true: singleness comes with a unique set of freedoms. On average, we have more unscheduled time than our married counterparts and a higher proportion of flexible income. When I travel, I don’t have to make plans months in advance. I don’t need coordinated schedules or car seats or babysitters. I can just go.
The great temptation of singleness is to squander these freedoms on ourselves. But what if we saw them instead as an opportunity to take seriously Jesus’ command to go?
Maybe singleness is freeing you to make a long-term commitment on the mission field, or to go on a short-term trip. Maybe you need to give a week of your life as a volunteer camp counselor, spend a Saturday playing Yahtzee at a local retirement community. Maybe you just need to open your front door and meet your neighbors.
God gave you the freedom of singleness for a reason. Don’t waste it. Instead ask Jesus, “Who are you calling me to love in the places I’ve been equipped to go?”
... make disciples of all nations...
It’s easy to imagine what the words “all nations” mean for those called to overseas missions. But what about for the rest of us? How can we reach the nations within our own nation?
Too often, we grow accustomed to experiencing and sharing the love of God only within comfortable communities. We make disciples only among people who look and speak and think like us. But the Great Commission reminds us that God’s love is bigger than our boundaries, transcending race and culture and language.
We’re called to invest in people unlike us, to spend time with those who make us uncomfortable.
What if you made friends with an international student at your local university, gave up a peaceful evening at home to hang out with those colleagues you seem to have nothing in common with? What if you attended (or hosted) a conversation about racial reconciliation and took time to listen to people whose life experiences were totally unlike your own?
As singles, we’re uniquely equipped with the time and flexibility to befriend all kinds of people. Where there’s no relationship, there can be no discipleship.
... baptizing them...
Let’s be honest: baptism is crazy. It’s a public declaration of our reckless devotion to God, our willingness to symbolically die and become new in Christ. Think of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, hopping into the nearest puddle because they couldn’t stand to delay this act of obedience.
What if we followed God with the same recklessness today?
On an early December day in upstate New York, I was eating pizza with three college guys from the church where I worked. One of them had just become a Christian, and he announced that he wanted to get baptized.
“If the river weren’t so cold,” I joked, “I’d say we should go baptize you right now.”
He looked at me with steady eyes. “I will if you will.”
So the four of us piled into a car, and I delivered a mini-sermon on Acts 8 while we drove to the river. Then plunged into the literally icy river, and welcomed our friend into a shivering covenant with Jesus.
It was crazy. It was reckless.
That’s what baptism is. Whatever the water temperature, the insanity of the declaration remains the same.
What if we embraced that same God-honoring recklessness, not just in our baptisms, but in the ways we love and reach and serve our communities?
People tell me it’s easier to be reckless when you’re single. What better time to follow God wholeheartedly and invite others to join us?
... teaching them...
When I was younger, I usually imagined “leaving a legacy” in literal terms: I would have kids, and those kids would have kids, and so on, until there were dozens of scrawny glasses-wearing nerds running around, biologically indebted to my existence.
If God calls us to be single, is he calling us to give up this kind of legacy as well? Or does our calling to leave a legacy remain the same even if we never have children of our own?
The “teaching” Jesus calls us to is more than just classroom teaching, more than just teaching children. It’s about guiding people of all ages into who they will become, dedicating our lives to influence the lives of every generation around us. It’s about leaving a legacy.
So let’s volunteer at VBS programs, help out with the youth group, meet up with college students for one-on-one discipleship. Let’s not wait for biological children to start impacting the generations that will come after us.
... surely I am with you always.
There are days when the calling to singleness, whether it’s a permanent calling or a temporary one, can feel like a heavy burden. The loneliness might seem crippling. And that’s why the promise of God’s presence is so important.
We weren’t made to live life alone. Married or single or somewhere in between, we were made to know and be known, to be deeply intimate with one another. If you’re single, don’t let that stop you from developing deep and life-giving friendships. Wait to have sex, yes, but don’t wait to love and be loved in return. People need one another now, in the present tense, in the midst of our singleness.
But the best intimacy of all is the one we’ve already been guaranteed in Christ. Surely, always, he is with us. If we want to make a difference this summer, let’s not start with a to-do list. Let’s start by experiencing the presence of God.
Start there, and everything else will come in time.
Gregory Coles is an author and an English instructor at Penn State University. Learn more at www.gregcoles.com.