It’s no secret that singles are waiting longer and longer to get married. There are many factors that go into this trend. Prolonged adolescence. Career aspirations. Contentment in being alone. Distractions brought on by advanced technology. The list goes on and on and on. And this isn’t just the case in the culture around us. Singles within the church are not immune to this epidemic, either. Well-meaning people, even those I highly respect, seem to have the answer for this: grow up and get married. Christian singles are CONSTANTLY bombarded by this directive. And, while I appreciate the sentiment, I am not sure it’s the most helpful advice for us.
I see several issues with this push for singles to get married. First, singleness is not this sickness that needs to be cured. It is just as important and necessary to the kingdom as marriage. Paul speaks very highly of singleness in his first letter to the church at Corinth (ch 7). In fact, in some ways he shows how singleness can be more beneficial to the kingdom than marriage. We do not have distractions. We can devote our undivided attention to God and his will. We can do things for the kingdom that married couples cannot. There are singles right now doing amazing things for the kingdom that they might not otherwise be able to do if they were married.
Yet, this can be downplayed by the Christian culture. There is this huge tendency in the church to focus on marriage and family. It is the be-all, end-all. ‘Yeah, singleness is great for a time, but you can’t really start fulfilling God’s purpose for your life until you get married.’ I continually feel pressure to get married because the greatest roles I could ever fulfill in life are that of wife and mother. Somehow I am not as complete or as useful as a single. Or, at least, I feel that is what the church is telling me by her actions and words.
But, what if God’s plan for my life right now is to be single? What if I am fulfilling purposes that I would not be able to fulfill as a married? What if the church’s pressure for me to get married is actually drawing me away from God’s will for my life right now?
There is a real danger of pushing singles to get married. A lot of us really do desire to live according to God’s will for our lives. When we are told we should get married at every turn, we start to doubt that our singleness is being used for the kingdom. We start to wonder if we really are living selfishly in disobedience to God. But, what if we aren’t? What if this is his will for us? What if your incessant badgering for us to get married is actually leading us to walk away from his will?
Now, to be sure, many of us are called to get married. So, I do think it is good and healthy for singles to be taught about marriage and the beauty of the gospel that is found in it. However, pressure to get married a lot of times leads singles to jump into it prematurely. I have seen this happen numerous times. Young men and woman are told they need to hurry up and get married, so they do. Then, within a few years, they are either divorced or in miserable marriages.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Even if you jumped into marriage too quickly, Christ can redeem your situation. So, I am not at all saying divorce is the answer just because you got married too soon. Christ can restore you and your spouse and bring healing to your marriage. Don’t give up hope.
However, what if premature marriages could be prevented? What if singles were encouraged to wait on God’s timing for marriage? We do not need to only be told to get married. We need to be encouraged in what healthy marriage really looks like and how to patiently and wisely move towards it.
Now, I know selfishness and disobedience are real issues in the lives of many singles. We should be confronted on these sins. If we aren’t getting married for reasons of the flesh, we need to be rebuked. However, I really don’t think the best solution for our selfishness is to get married, and I’m willing to bet the well-meaning advocates of marriage do not think so, either. It can really come across that way, though. ‘Oh, you aren’t married because you’re selfish? Well, you should grow up and get married to fix it!’
In fact, I am not even sure marriage should be the focus at all. Instead, what if singles were exhorted to live in godliness? What if we were challenged to completely surrender our lives to our Creator? What if we were told to repent of our selfishness, not because we are supposed to get married, but because we are living in rebellion to the living God? We need to get to the root of our sin. We don’t need the band-aid of marriage because somehow that will magically help us to grow up and become selfless. Otherwise, we would just be in selfish marriages.
If godly living was the focus of our lives, everything else would fall into place in accordance with God’s will. If we are seeking his wisdom and choosing to live everyday in surrender to him, those of us who should get married will be led to marriage and those of us who should remain single will remain single.
I think it’s high time the church needs to meet singles where they are. Get to know us. Invest in our lives. Encourage us to live our singleness totally and completely for the kingdom and God’s glory. Teach us what godly marriage is. Show us what it looks like. Then, allow the Lord to move in our lives in a way that only he knows how. Allow him to lead us to marriage if that is his will. Allow him to strengthen us in our singleness if that is his will. But, please, don’t tell us we really need to get married every chance you get. Your words, while well-meaning, may just be doing more harm than good.
‘Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.’ I Corinthians 7:6-7 [emphasis mine]