The best privilege of being single is far and away the increased opportunity for discipleship and serving our Savior. This more than anything else—including marriage—addresses our loneliness. Like Mary, we have more opportunity to sit at Jesus’s feet and learn (Luke 10:38–42). Like Mary Magdalene, we have greater exposure to the wonders of the resurrection (John 20:11– 18). Like Anna, we have more mobility to get out and share the gospel (Luke 2:38). Like Lydia, we have more flexibility to use our homes and resources to serve the church (Acts 16:15, 40).
There is a certain fulfillment that comes from living out these unique advantages that our married brothers and sisters can’t fully know, and as we embrace these opportunities with gratitude, we demonstrate to our entire faith community the value and rewards of remaining unmarried.
Blessing Because Of, Not in Spite Of
We want that, don’t we? We want to know—not on paper but in our heart and in the places we live out our faith—that we have value, not despite our singleness but actually because of it. When a woman has never been pursued by a man, or if she has been rejected by one (or more), she so easily questions her personal worth. It is to such women that Christ comes, not to shore up their self-esteem but to drive them to find him as their worth. It is in valuing Christ that our own value becomes clear, and as that happens, we discover that we have ceased to define ourselves by our marital status. We don’t need to be Mrs. So-and-So to have a respectable identity. Spiritually speaking, we’re already a “Mrs.” in Christ. Our whole identity is bound up with the person of Christ, and that’s true for every believer, married or single. All this speaks deeply and directly to aspects of loneliness that we’re aware of at some level but can’t quite put our finger on. As we fellowship with our Savior and find our identity in him rather than in our marital status, we can participate more fully in our faith community because we no longer feel so self- consciously single.
Being Single to the Glory of God
We can also help others within our fellowship along these same lines, especially if the church we attend tends to divide church members demographically. You know what I mean: there’s the singles’ group (or two—one for young adults and another for the over-forty set); the small group for young married couples; the monthly luncheon for seniors; and the various youth groups broken out by age. We certainly don’t want to negate the positive benefits of these demographically based subgroups, yet we want to be aware that too much emphasis on demographics hides the spiritual reality that everyone in that church body is part of one family. We don’t want to lose sight of what Paul said: “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:20–21). Married church members benefit from single members, and singles benefit from the married men and women in their midst. That’s how Christ intends his church to thrive.
Certainly church singles’ groups are a blessing; they provide an ideal means for marriages to form, and lifelong friendships often begin here. Singles’ groups can be detrimental to spiritual health, however, when they become their own little church within a church or when they take the place of Sunday worship. A church’s singles’ ministry can—and should—serve as an entry point into the larger church body, but if it becomes an end in itself, no one benefits ultimately, including the singles themselves. Those in their late forties who linger in the singles’ group they began attending in their early twenties, while never entering into the larger church body, become over time a sort of sad singles’ support group. Can you see the law of diminishing returns at work there? It doesn’t abate our loneliness; it entrenches us more deeply in it. The hand needs the foot, and the eye needs the ear. So, in the strength Christ provides (Phil. 4:19), it is good to leave the protective cocoon of the safe and familiar—the easy and comfortable—and involve ourselves in the lives of others to whom God will surely send us.
If that fails to wow you, it might be because, when you think of involving yourself more fully in the church, what comes to mind are particular ministries toward which singles tend to gravitate or toward which the church tends to push them— children’s programs, for example, or working in the nursery so as to give moms a much-needed break. Of course, getting involved with the children in our church not only proves helpful to tired moms; it can also serve as balm for the single woman with an aching maternal heart. But that’s not true for all single women. Some of us are simply not gifted to work with children, and, guess what? That’s okay. Having a preference for areas of service besides child care doesn’t make us less feminine or useful to the body of Christ. The need isn’t always the call, and opportunity isn’t always the answer, and we can be lovingly candid when this is the case for us. Truthfulness, if expressed in love, breeds unifying fellowship.
Married or unmarried, we all have particular gifts, and we serve the body best, and find the most joy in serving, when we uncover them and put them to use. If God hasn’t called us to raise a family or gifted us to work with children, we can be sure he has called us to something else, and as we dedicate ourselves to serving our faith community, God delights to show us the unique ways he has gifted us for the furthering of our joy, the good of the church, and his own glory.
In God’s economy, singleness isn’t second best. To the contrary, it’s a privileged calling with unique blessings to enjoy and to pour out for others. Are we willing for that unless, or until, God calls us to marriage? Tell him of your willingness, and, if you’re not quite there yet, ask him to lead you to it. You have nothing to lose but loneliness.
Lydia Brownback (MAR, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as a senior editor at Crossway in Wheaton, Illinois, and an author and speaker at women’s conferences around the world. Lydia previously served as writer in residence for Alistair Begg and as producer of the Bible Study Hour radio program with James Montgomery Boice.
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: February 28, 2017