“To those who are unmarried or widowed, here’s my advice: it is a good thing to stay single as I do” (1 Corinthians 7:8 VOICE).
I just had another birthday. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it because there was one big gift I knew I’d be waking up to again that I didn’t want: the gift of singleness.
I’ve been a single mom for five years now. Before that, I was in a difficult marriage where everyone thought I was single because I was always alone. I went to church alone. I traveled alone. I parented alone. And I had to deal with all the hard moments of life alone. So when I considered these words of Paul’s to the unmarried or widowed, I found myself struggling with his assessment of singleness being a good thing.
It hasn’t felt like a good thing trying to fully sustain my household on selections from the Dollar Tree, or trying to mow my yard after a wheel fell off my mower. It doesn’t feel good not being invited to hang out with other families because I throw off the couples ratio, or standing helplessly on the sidelines at my son’s football games as all the dads holler things to their boys that I’d be afraid to shout. Finally, after a solo trip to Home Depot a few nights ago where it took me an hour to find hardware that I ended up installing backwards, I came to the conclusion that I do not have the mystical biblical quality referred to as the “gift of singleness.” In fact, knowing so many women like myself who have unfinished projects all over their homes, yards and vehicles desperately in need of care, and kids crying out for fatherly attention, I had a revelation: There’s no such thing as the gift of singleness to a single mom! There, I said it.
Where in the world (or in the Bible) did this idea come from that singleness is a gift? I know Paul’s intention was to encourage people in the early church to prioritize Christ, whether married or single. But none of his advice in 1 Corinthians 7 appears to address the issue of being single AND parenting alone. There are days I find myself wanting to resurrect my favorite apostle and bring this to his attention. Umm…excuse me…with all due respect, did you know you forgot to say, “And to those who are unmarried with four children by three daddys who live in three different states and don’t pay child support, my advice to you is…” cause there’s a bunch of us here in the 21st century who are really dying to know! I try to imagine how he would respond, hoping it would be more encouraging and practical than some of the responses we single moms tend to get, like “Holy Moses!” or “Can I pray for you?”
In all seriousness, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as the gift of singleness, at least if the definition means that to some saints God allows singleness to come easily and without loneliness, physical longings, or suffering. But I do believe God gives all of us the assignment of singleness for a season. And if we use that season to carry out his purposes and bring him glory like Paul did, then it really can be a good thing.
Sadly, I spent my first season of singleness prior to marriage in a very self-focused way: achieving career ambitions, dating all the wrong people and buying a lot of sassy shoes. This time around, my singleness looks completely different. For one, God has entrusted me with a wonderful son and made it clear that my number one priority is to raise a man, not chase after one. And as a believer now, single mom or not, my assignment is to actually imitate Christ, which means my life should be marked by words like purity, devotion, service, sacrifice, and sanctification. I know, this sounds intimidating and, well…not much fun, but stay with me. Let’s see how this can actually be a good thing.
This is more than a decision to not shack up or have sex outside of marriage. It is a condition of the heart that is a reflection of God’s heart to protect our minds and bodies from anything that would entrap us. Even as single parents, we can live out the relationship life we want our kids to model. If they see us content in our singleness, they know that they can be too! Not only are they watching our example in this area very closely, so is the world. This is one of the greatest areas we can bring glory to God, because living in purity as a single parent in our culture will make us stand out.
What are we actually worshipping as single parents…ourselves, the world, or Jesus Christ? There are many things competing for our attention, but only one thing that brings life. One of my favorite passages is Luke 10:42 (NLT) “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” When we refuse to move from the feet of Jesus, even when people around us are screaming that we’re not doing all the things the world says are important, we will draw attention to God and bring him glory.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is trying to grasp happiness by getting (the next exciting thing or relationship) instead of receiving the joy of giving and serving others. There is no greater sense of fulfillment and closeness to God than when we love and serve others in his name. It is the simplest and most profound remedy for loneliness, depression, and the damaged sense of worth and purpose that many of us struggle with. Serving others is also a great habit to instill in our kids, and what better practice for learning to serve a potential mate!
This one hurts, but don’t run from the pain. There is a thrilling freedom that comes when we open our hands and give until it hurts; give to God that which is most precious to us or that which we think we can’t live without. For some of us, that might mean giving up a wrong relationship. Or it might mean tithing in faith when the numbers don’t add up, or releasing our kids because letting them spend time with their other parent is the right thing to do.
Ever wonder what God’s will is for you as a single parent? “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). That’s it. Strong’s Concordance defines sanctification as “the separation of the believer from evil things and ways. It must be learned by God as He teaches it by His Word, and it must be pursued by the believer, earnestly and undeviatingly.” In our journey as single parents, we have to be proactive in pursuing God’s truth and anchoring our hearts and lives in it. We can’t be usable to God in a significant way or bring him great glory if we’re unwilling to get rid of evil in our lives and persevere through the fire of sanctification.
The bottom line is, we may not understand our singleness. We may not have chosen it or have any control over when it ends. But at the end of the day, we will get to account to Jesus for how we spent it. When it feels impossible and unfair we must remember that we have a Savior who went first, who never sought his own gratification but endured the deepest levels of suffering so he could now sit in a place of glory and fight on our behalf.
We may not feel the gift of singleness as we parent alone, but when we use our assignment of singleness as a gift we offer back to God, he is glorified and all the pain is transformed to a good thing.
Dawn Walker is a single mom and lives with her 10-year-old son in Grand Rapids, MI. She is the Founder and Director of Single Parent Missions, a ministry dedicated to raising up single parent families to transform generations. She is also a speaker and works with churches to envision and equip them for effective single parent ministry. To subscribe to her daily Hope Notes for single parents, visit www.singleparentmissions.org.