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 have family members and friends around. But we’re on our own. We’re no longer really under our parents’ care, and neither are we committed to a husband or a wife in marriage.
For some, this is a short season: we become aware of it sometime in our late teens, and find ourselves married by our early twenties. Or it’s an experience that’s tempered by the presence of a long-time boyfriend or girlfriend. For others, the season is much longer, lasting many years or even a lifetime. For many, it comes after a time of being married. For some, the season is an easy one; for others, it’s difficult, lonely, and painful.
No matter what our age or experience, being on our own brings its 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?
It’s hard for us to imagine today, but there was a time in the church when it was common to hear sermons and find books on “holy virginity.” What this meant was that men and women – particularly women – promised to dedicate their lives to the service of the church, rather than to one 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 taught. Those who embrace a celibate life must be 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.
Yet some good people never get married. Some 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:
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.
Fellow Christians can help singles by recognizing the nature of the commitment required by singleness.
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.
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.