Being married is a gift, a viable, biblical way of living, if submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Being single is also a gift, a viable, biblical way of living, if submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
This doesn’t mean it will be easy, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges, or that we’ll love every minute of it. But in every circumstance and every situation, it is possible to be content, to trust God, to live as if Jesus really has made a full life available to us.
For the longest time, I thought of being in a relationship as a reward. I wouldn’t have phrased it that way, but I can see that in hindsight. I went through middle school and high school thinking, “Why is this taking so long, God? I’m doing everything I’m supposed to: not sleeping around, not doing drugs, treating people well, going to church regularly, being part of youth group, memorizing Bible verses.” No girlfriend.
And then in college, six months after I came back to faith, I was in a relationship that lasted for a number of years and got pretty serious. But that didn’t work out, and I was left saying, “What happened, God? We were both Christians, we were both in leadership at our church, we were both trying to follow you.” And I was single again.
A year later, I moved to California to go to seminary and my first month there I met a lot of smart, young, good-looking people who were choosing to follow God and preparing for ministry of some kind. But no girlfriend.
I decided I must need to take a six-month dating fast to refocus on God, and I did—put all thoughts of relationship out of my head for half a year. After that, I thought the first person I met and liked would be the one—but nope.
And this pattern continued:
- God broke my heart for issues of injustice and poverty—how about now? Nope.
- I left a fantastic community in California to move to DC to do advocacy work at a Christian social justice organization, what I felt like God was calling me to—how about now? Nope.
- Discovered my calling as a pastor over two years ago at The District Church—how about now? Nope.
I remember talking to an old college professor and saying,
I just feel like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. I’ve done everything you asked of me and yet you’ve withheld your best. I’ve always tried to treat women with honor; I’ve worked to become more content, to learn to wait and be self-controlled; I’m a pretty well-rounded person. So … why no girlfriend?
I was acting as if I deserved a relationship, as if a relationship—and a marriage—was a right because I was part of the club and because I’d met all the criteria. And my prof said, “Well, what did the father say to the elder son?”
I went back and looked at Luke 15:31:
Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
And I cried because I remember a year before the conversation with my prof, talking to Aaron and Amy at the park as Elijah played, and I remember saying, “99% of life is in place; all I need is a someone to partner with me in what God’s calling me to do. All I need is for God to bring that last piece and then life will be complete—doesn’t he want me to be happy?” And they lovingly pointed out that that’s a pretty selfish and self-centered perspective to have.
But isn’t that how things go? We always tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than on giving thanks for what we do have. The devil would like nothing more than for us to stop acknowledging the blessings we’ve received and clamor for what we don’t have or what we think we need. But God says to each one of us: “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
I’m still not married. I’m in my first relationship in eight years, and it’s really great. But life—just as when I wasn’t dating—continues to have its ups and downs, its challenges and joys, its constraints and freedoms. They’re a little different, of course, but the point remains: being in a relationship is not a higher existence but it is a gift, just as being married is not a higher existence but it is a gift, just as being single and not in a relationship is not a higher existence but it is a gift. You are more than your relationship status.
Last year, in our Sex, Love & Dating series, we talked about how it’s not about looking for the right person, but about becoming the kind of person the person you’re looking for would be looking for. (Shall I run that by you again?) That’s a good start, but it’s not about becoming the right person so that you can meet the right person—marriage is not a right or a reward. Singleness is not a waiting room or a Petrie dish where God works on you until you’re ready and then once he’s done, you get transplanted into the real, grown-up world of marriage.
How do I know that?
- This side of Christ’s return, God’s never done working on you.
- More importantly, when I look at Jesus, my mentor, my role model, my Lord, my friend, I don’t see a man desperately seeking a romantic partner. Jesus remained single and lived life to the full—the very thing he came to give us; so it’s possible, despite what the world may tell you, despite what you may be feeling, despite what others may say.
I wish we had more time and space, because I feel like I’ve only skimmed the surface, that there are so many other things I want to talk about. Let me give you two practical tips real quick, though:
- Don’t compare yourself to other people. We’re not in competition with one another: it’s not about trying to out-do one another, get married first or stay single the longest, not about who can find their partner quickest or soonest. Jon Acuff advises, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” We encourage each other and hold one another accountable as we all seek to do life as best we can together, to live life to the full together.
- Invest in friendships. As I said at the beginning, we’re created for relationship—with God and with one another—and we see that throughout Scripture: Jesus with Peter, James, and John; Paul with Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. In my own life, there’s absolutely no way I could do this without the love and support and accountability of close friends: male and female, single and dating and married and divorced, parents and those who never want to be parents. We are the body of Christ, and each of them is helping me to become more fully who God has created me to be just as I hope I do the same for them as a 30-year-old single guy.
I love this quote from Paige Brown, that’s brutally honest and spot-on, and I’ll close with this:
Let’s face it: singleness is not an inherently inferior state of affairs. … But I want to be married. I pray to that end every day. I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date … because God is so good to me. There’s the balance.