Singleness – is it a gift?
One of the problems with singleness is that it’s difficult to be honest about the challenges that single people face. I was single for quite a while and, let’s be real, the experience often falls short of the ideal proposed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7. One thing I did not need when I was traversing life’s pathway alone was for someone to tell me that my situation was more spiritually commendable than marriage. I was one of those single people who cried and railed against my status. I drew no comfort from Paul’s elevation of singleness—in short I definitely did not have the gift.
What is the gift of singleness? We live in a culture in which the age of a first marriage is significantly increasing and singleness is promoted as an opportunity to party and explore multiple partners. Obviously the gift of singleness is different to that. The question is particularly applicable to the church because, presumably, Christian singles are not frequenting Tinder or engaging in premarital sex, but may still find themselves alone. In fact, the moral constraints faced by believers can place them in the position of being even more alone than their non-Christian counterparts. How does the church respond to single people who have not made a deliberate decision to remain unmarried?
The church often places a great emphasis on marriage and family; unwittingly, marginalising singles within their own congregation. Amidst the weddings, Sunday schools, marriage courses, dedications or christenings, it is easy for those without a spouse to feel somehow inadequate, as if they have not quite made the grade. Some churches operate singles groups but, even these, have the capacity to reinforce the idea that people who do not have a spouse dwell in the margins of life, waiting for the right person to come along and change their status from unwanted to wanted.
Those who have the gift of singleness, and I have known a number of people who are absolutely content with being alone, are possibly in the minority. More likely, our churches are brimming with singles who would love to find a marriage partner. The idea of loneliness in the church goes against everything that it stands for, but it is there—sitting in the pews, leading groups, serving on Sundays—and watching Netflix alone at the end of the day.
How can married Christians be more thoughtful and inclusive of single people, and how can singles navigate the Christian life in a happy and meaningful way? To explore these and other aspects of singleness enrol in our course God, Gender, Sexuality and the Church.