Here’s the post I never wanted to write.
I don’t like talking about being single. At this point in my life, people don’t like talking to me about being single.
To be completely honest, most of the time it isn’t a big deal. It’s taken several years, but I’ve finally learned to enjoy it a bit.
That’s a pretty major accomplishment for me, as marriage was probably the biggest idol I had in my life until I was 26 or 27.
I tend to get reflective as I near my birthday, and I’m a little over a week away from turning 33.
I’ve been replaying my past relationships in my head and continuing to give the pain I’ve caused and received to God. There are still deep places of shame within me for the hurt I’ve dealt out, unintentional though it was. And it still isn’t easy being at peace owning many of the decisions I’ve made in the past.
As a line from “Left Undone” by Jars of Clay says, “I thought that everything would turn out right, now look what I’ve become – a man I wouldn’t have respect for if I’d met me when I was young.”
Which isn’t entirely true, because I’m happy with the man that I am, just not the path I’ve taken to get here. I’ve left a decent amount of wreckage in my wake, self included.
I guess the first really important thing to say about being a single Christian is that I’m not actually single. Most Christians don’t seem to understand that. I mean, they do intellectually perhaps, but not in practice.
I’m in a relationship with God, of course, one that is most properly understood as a romance, and naturally any Christian would agree that this is true of him or her, as well.
But to many American Christians this is just an idea, not an actual reality. When they say “I have a relationship with God,” what they actually mean is, “I read the Bible (sometimes, maybe), pray (speak AT God from time to time), and drag myself to church sometimes.”
That’s not what a relationship with God looks like within scripture itself. Those relationships are interactive – God’s presence is sought and waited on.
The most important part of prayer is waiting to hear from God. And the central act of corporate worship is a mysterious participation in Christ’s body and blood – an actual joining with the Person of the Trinity (yeah, it’s in there: read 1 Corinthians).
So when I say “I’m not actually single,” there is deeper meaning behind the statement than “I think there must be a God up there somewhere.”
That doesn’t always feel like it’s enough, though I know in my head it’s supposed to be.
Our relationship with God is not only something that is between us spiritually, but also extends into the dynamics of the human relationships within the Church. The Church is more than just metaphorical Christ-in-the-world, but in some mysterious way is literally that. A fully healthy relationship with God necessarily includes healthy relationships with people within the Church.
Whether we and another person decide to enter into a marriage is both related to and independent of that overall dynamic. If marriage is chosen, it is to be done within this understanding and web of relationships, yet it is variable whether individuals within the Church are called to singleness or just are single.
That there is a call to singleness is certain. Paul describes it as the Christian’s ideal state of being: it allows for complete focus on the relational web of God and the Church. But Paul also has no problem with marriage and states that it should be pursued if one “burns with desire.”
The right understanding of the parameters put on sex by Christians is not some idea of “moral rightness.” That most people think that (including Christians!) drives me crazy.
To understand why most people think Christians are prudes is to understand the Christian view of humanity in general.
The most basic understanding of humanity is to know that we are made in God’s image. What we are intended to be are reflections of who God is. So, who is God?
God’s a Trinity – three distinct Persons sharing one Essence. They’re in love with each other – according to Western Catholic tradition, the absolute love between the Father and the Son results in the eternal existence of the Holy Spirit.
It is the love of God that creates: the love between Father and Son creating the Spirit, and the love between the Father, Son and Spirit resulting in creation. The nature of love is to expand, which is why it is God’s nature to create.
As you might suspect, the love God has within the Trinity is committed: the Father, Son and Spirit are utterly exclusive with each other.
Sex is primarily about reproducing: that’s why there is such a thing as “sex.” Thus, if we humans as God’s images are to emulate Him, when we go about doing the act that is mainly intended to result in creating new life, we’re supposed to go about that act within the same setting that God does – an exclusive and highly committed relationship.
We’re supposed to do this not just because “God says,” but because when we take actions that are outside the realm of who God made us to be, we create more brokenness within ourselves, others, and creation as a whole.
That’s the right way to understand what sin is: God made creation to function in a particular way, and when creation “misses the mark” (hamartia in Greek), it self-destructs at various levels.
That’s just the nature of things. Most cars are made to run on gasoline; pour liquid nitrogen into the gas tank and a car might explode. Humans are made to function as reflections of God; step outside the boundaries of that and you cause damage all around you.
Because humans are the stewards of creation, faulty human functioning results in a faulty creation – our actions have bigger ramifications beyond our self.
[I wish that had been a point driven home to me more clearly as a teenager: having sex outside of marriage messes you and others up spiritually]
But let’s be real. It’s really, really hard to not have sex when you’re single. It’s healthy and normal to have a sex drive but difficult to know what to do with it while single.
I do my best and ask God for help in resting in His presence. I find additional fulfillment in the variety of friendships and relationships within and outside the Church. But there’s still that urge even after all that, that hormonal drive.
Which makes it pretty difficult to be a single Christian male.
But no more difficult than living within a marriage.
These marriage things aren’t easy. It’s an awful lot of work to commit to growing, changing and adapting to life with a totally different adult human.
Most people don’t seem to do it very well, which is all the more reason to think that if I’m going to try to do it, it has to be with someone who is fully committed to the same things I am.
So, hey, here’s to you, single people. We have an important perspective on life as we navigate solo.
Last I recall, Jesus was single; Paul was single; most of the apostles were single; and, you know, there’s no sex in heaven, so we’re just getting a head start learning to taste what is better instead of settling for scraps.