Journeying Single

Virtually all of us spend some season of life's journey on our own. Not totally isolated from the rest of the world, of course; we still have family members and friends around. But we’re mostly on our own as a single adult. We’re no longer directly under our parents’ care nor committed to a husband or a wife in marriage.

For a season or longer

For some, this is a short season. We emerge from our late teens and find ourselves married by our early twenties. Or maybe the presence of a long-time boyfriend or girlfriend tempers the season. For others, the season is much longer, lasting many years or even a lifetime. For many, it comes after a time of being married when the marriage ends. For some, the season is an easy one; for others, it’s difficult, lonely, and painful. For me, this season persisted longer than I would have chosen.

No matter what our age or experience, being on our own brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities to our walk with God. What does it mean to live this season, as in every season of life, not for ourselves but as those who belong to God?

Singleness in church tradition

It’s hard for us to imagine today, but there was a time in the church when it was common to hear sermons and books on “holy virginity.” Men and particularly women chose singleness to dedicate their lives to the service of the church rather than to another in marriage.

Unfortunately, some of the attitudes toward what came to be called the “religious life” developed from false views about human sexuality. Sex was sinful, some wrongly taught. They saw those who embraced a celibate life as holier than other people. During the Reformation, many of these false distinctions between “religious” and “secular” living vanished among Protestants. And as a result, marriage (rather than singleness) became seen as the calling of mature Christian believers.

Singleness in scripture

Yet some good people never get married. Others may experience broken marriages or lose a spouse to death and never remarry. What counsel does God’s Word give us for singleness?

The apostle Paul, himself a single man, wrote, “I wish that all of you were as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7). Without denigrating marriage, he gently reminded believers that our relationship to Christ, not our marital status, is the most important thing about us.

Paul offers some important lessons God can teach us in the season of singleness:

  • If you’re constantly thinking about when the perfect relationship will come along, you will lack time and energy to serve Christ well right now (v. 29).
  • Like marriage, good singleness requires purity and commitment to the ways of God (v. 35).

Singleness can be challenging

Singleness is hard work. It takes work to be committed to God’s call to sexual purity. It takes a great deal of commitment to take your personal focus off all the things you can do for yourself and pour that energy into service to Christ and his church.

Singleness in the church today

Fellow Christians can help singles by recognizing the nature of the commitment required by singleness.

  • Be aware of the pain that a question about their dating life may cause.
  • Allow them to talk honestly about any loneliness or pain of singleness.
  • Find ways to include singles in the life of the larger church rather than just shuttling them off to “singles ministries.”

I myself was blessed by a church family which gave me many opportunities to take leadership roles and serve in a variety of ways long before I was married in my thirties. I am still grateful for ways friends and fellow believers embraced me and encouraged me in this season of life.

Finding contentment

We don’t know how long a season of singleness will last. Christine Colon and Bonnie Field, in their book Singled Out, offer the reminder that our choices in life are not between getting married or remaining celibate forever as a witness to Christ. Singleness does not require a special “gift of celibacy,” they point out. It simply requires a willingness to be faithful to the Lord’s plan of singleness now, until God reveals a different plan.

Ultimately, they point out, living faithfully in the season of singleness requires the spirit Paul embraces in Philippians 4:11: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

Whether we’re on our own as singles or we journey with a spouse together in marriage, our greatest goal must be the contentment of belonging to Christ. We are never more valuable or fulfilled than when we rest in him. A season of singleness is not just a preparation for something bigger and better; it is a time to discover what it means to please the Lord and walk with Him, just as we do at every season of life.

About the author — Rev. Joel Vande Werken

Joel Vande Werken is the pastor of Fairlawn Christian Reformed Church in Whitinsville, Massachusetts. Originally from the Chicago area, he served for ten years in Sussex, NJ before moving to his current church.  He and his wife, Brandie, have four young children.

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