Single and Loving It?

The first time I read the Bible front-to-back was when I was a college sophomore in Boulder, Colorado. That was also the first time that I learned the Bible had positive things to say about singleness. I’d grown up going to church, Bible camp and youth group, yet I’d never heard a message or done a Bible study that made any mention of the viability of a single life. I’d come to assume that marriage was the only path to a fulfilled, fruitful, God-honoring life.

Suddenly, I was struck by how both Jesus (Matthew 19:10-12) and Paul (1 Corinthians 7:6-9) were affirming that being single is a good path for some people. The unmarried person, Paul notes, can give undivided devotion to the Lord. Similarly, Jesus (who walked the path of singleness himself) says some choose to be unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom. Neither says singleness is for everyone, but both say it’s good.

In my 20s, this view of singleness helped me to have an open-handed approach to dating, rather than a sense of entitlement. I still desired to be married, but – at least most of the time – I didn’t feel like it was the end of the world when relationships didn’t work out. It also helped me make the most of the time I had while single and to enjoy its unique blessings. Working in a pub until 2 am and taking a seminary course on my off-nights (something I did in my 20s) is something I probably would not have been able to do if I had a family.

The reality is that we are designed for relationship. More specifically, I think we’re designed for family… brotherhood, sisterhood, sonship, parenthood and marriage. How can we experience all of these relationships if we don’t marry?

The answer, I believe, is that Christians are called to radical community.

Jesus reframes family when, in Mark 3, he’s told that his mother and brothers are looking for him. He responds, “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (3:35). The Church life depicted in Acts functioned like a family, as “they shared everything they had” (4:32). And Paul describes himself as loving other believers like a mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7) and like a father (2:11). He – and other New Testament writers – regularly referred to fellow Christians as brothers, sisters and children.

When I’ve moved to a new city without family and sought to make a home there, brothers and sisters in Christ have been vital to making that possible. We’ve cared for each other while we were sick, invited each other into our homes for meals and truly loved one another like family.

Tim Keller has said that “Christianity was the very first religion that held up single adulthood as a viable way of life…. Nearly all ancient religions and cultures made an absolute value of the family and of the bearing of children. There was no honor without family honor, and there was no real lasting significance or legacy without leaving heirs. Without children, you essentially vanished – you had no future.”

As I have plugged into different faith networks across the country, I have found that some of our modern faith communities emphasize marriage and family in a way that sounds a little more like those ancient religions than like the radical way of life and belonging described in the New Testament. Marriage and family are good, and they’re gifts, but so, too, is singleness and the family we have in Christ. The most essential thing is that all Christians –  married or single – live into this calling of radical community.

Through these experiences, I have learned that it’s good to desire marriage and to hope for, pray for and pursue it. But if we do so in a way that neglects the value and gift of singleness, we can be robbed of the blessing and joy God has for us now. Marriage is a great gift, but it’s only a foretaste of the union with Christ for which we’re all created. Consequently, let’s be thankful for the gift God has given us for today – singleness or marriage – and use it to bless others.

 

Resources:

Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, is excellent. It’s about marriage, but as Keller says, understanding marriage is a great help to understanding singleness. Here is brief sample and a couple of questions: “The Christian gospel and hope of the future kingdom de-idolized marriage…. The Christian church in the West, unfortunately, does not seem to have maintained its grasp on the goodness of singleness…. Single people cannot live their lives well as singles without a balanced, informed view of marriage. If they do not have that, they will either over-desire or under-desire marriage, and either of those will distort their lives.”

  • Have you found Keller’s observation to be true? Have you seen people who over-desire or under-desire marriage?
  • Who do you have to talk to about your own journey through singleness and/or marriage?

 

For a resource on singleness from a woman’s perspective, check out Connally Gilliam’s Revelations of a Single Woman.

Suffering?

I get together with a group of men that starts each meeting with updates about our lives and a few prayer requests. I’ve started using the ACTS prayer tool (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication) as a framework for what I’d like to share.

At some point, I realized that my thanksgiving tends to be about what I think is going well in my life…“I’m thankful I got that job I applied for,” followed by supplication, which is often about what isn’t going quite so well…“Please help my relationship with my co-worker improve.”

But I’ve been challenged lately by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Romans 5:3 calls us even more specifically to “rejoice in our sufferings,” and James 1:2 exhorts, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials.”

This relationship between thanksgiving, joy, and suffering is profound. Do I really give thanks for suffering? Or do I thank God only for the things that are “going well” and then pray for an end to the things that aren’t? I don’t think these instructions on prayer mean I can’t ask God for hardship to end, but I do think I’m called to be thankful—even when suffering continues.

Incredibly, we’re promised fruit from suffering: endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4), as well as “steadfastness” and the remarkable result of “lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).

Thanksgiving, then, is not a separate step that I check off the list before I start asking God for things in a subsequent step called supplication; rather, they’re integrated and overlapping aspects of one prayer.

Philippians is a book with some pretty radical statements about suffering (see 1:29, 2:10). I think 4:6 sums it up best: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (ESV, emphasis added). Can we trust what God says about trials by giving him thanks even in the midst of them?

Resources

Alec’s Book Referrals:
Inside Out – Larry Crabb
Trusting God – Jerry Bridges

Mentor Rotation: It’s Time to Pay for Lunch

Having mentors used to take relatively little initiative for me—I just had to be willing to let someone buy me coffee or lunch. By the time I graduated, I’d gotten pretty used to mentors finding me. As a college freshman, a junior helped me grow in my faith, mostly by including me in his life and living as an example. Later, campus ministry staff met with me weekly for mentorship. I attribute much of my spiritual growth to the investment these mentors made in my life.

When I moved to Seattle for a job, all this changed. There were no longer mentors seeking me out. Although I’ve found that this is pretty common for people as they move from the campus to the workplace, I wasn’t content to lose this vital aspect of spiritual growth. So, I started seeking them out. I looked for people whose lives I respected and from whom I thought I could learn.

This worked, but I soon found that these men had busy lives and didn’t have the capacity to meet with me every week —more like once a month. I did the math and realized if I still wanted to be met with weekly, I’d have to find about four men. Eventually, I did find a few mentors, meeting with each one monthly and benefiting uniquely from each. What I feared might be lost in continuity was more than made up for in diversity. It took flexibility, initiative—even willingness to treat them to lunch—but I’ve learned the value of seeking out mentors. 

Alec’s Pick

Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life by Paul Stanley and J. Robert Clinton. Although there are plenty of good books on mentoring, what is unique about Connecting is that it helps people figure out how to find a mentor. Both mentor and mentee are encouraged to take initiative in the process.