Most of the time I’m content being single, but sometimes it’s really hard.
I celebrated my 35th birthday two weeks ago, and I find myself being more consciously aware of not being in a romantic relationship around this time.
It’s awkward because you don’t want to try to casually drop in conversation that your birthday is coming up, but without a significant other, there’s no one to draw attention to your birthday except yourself.
And, likewise, unless you have truly thoughtful friends (and I am blessed to have a few), there’s no one to celebrate your birthday with except, again, yourself.
Our culture doesn’t make being single easy, either. Romance is kind of like a national religion, I suppose because it can entice people to be more avid consumers – a lot of the advertisements being aired this time of year are geared towards jewelry or other gifts directed at a spouse.
The church, too, can be a horrible place to be single (though I’m again blessed to belong to a church that is far better at this than most), as there is often a great deal of social pressure directed at pushing people into marriage.
I’d like to be married, but my history with the idea of marriage is long and complicated. When I was younger, it was basically an idol of mine – I was pretty much a hopeless romantic who was desperate to be in love.
That led me into several unhealthy relationships and contributed to the demise of each.
A deeper relationship with God has mellowed my drama in that regard in subsequent years, but, for various reasons mostly having nothing to do with my own decisions, single I remain.
Though that is “mostly” true like I said, it’s also true that I still have standards that prevent me from settling into a relationship in which I know I wouldn’t be happy long-term.
It’s a frustrating middle-ground to feel stuck in. It can easily become depressing if I dwell on the negatives. I’m a romantic at heart, and, hey, I like physical intimacy as much as the next person, plus it feels incredibly bleak if I imagine the (hopefully) many years of my life into the future without a human partner to experience it with.
And yet, as a Christian, there is a truth I need to grapple with that seems completely wrong and feels counter-intuitive: I am more blessed to be single than to be married.
That’s not something you hear from most Christians, is it? But it’s a truth straight out of scripture.
“It is good for a man not to marry…to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion…those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this…I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord” (selections from 1 Cor. 7).
Most Christians are aware of this portion of scripture from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, but I don’t think many of us take it seriously. I know I’ve always lumped myself into the category of those who “burn with passion,” so I better find a wife!
But as is obvious to me and many like me, the vocation of being single is far more often than not not one that is taken by choice, but rather is a path one walks down largely through no choice of his or her own.
As a younger Christian, I thought Paul’s injunction just straight-up sucked. Great advice, Paul, is it better to flagellate myself, too? Self-denial is awesome!
But self-denial is one of the roots of being a Christian, and the true paradox at the heart of the Christian faith is that losing my own life – my own desires and agendas – is the means to discovering abundant life.
When I surrender to God, when I give myself fully to God and His will, when I soak (i.e., meditate) in His presence with no inhibitions, He brings me real joy.
That’s the secret I’d missed as a baby Christian, that life in Christ is quite literally life in Christ – it is mystical, it is mysterious, but it brings true fulfillment that nothing else can.
It’s very easy for me to forget that, and it’s likewise very easy for me to ignore God and choose bitterness because life hasn’t gone the way I’d wanted it to.
But I am truly blessed to be single, for however long I am, if in my singleness I choose to soak myself in the presence of God without any hindrance or reservation.