According to a 2020 Pew Research study, 41% of adult Americans 18-21 are single, which the study defines as “not married or living with a partner or in a committed romantic relationship”.
Christians are not immune. While we would define singleness differently (those who are not married) the number of unmarried adults in the Christian community in the US is also on the rise, with Table of One ministries claiming that 23% of churchgoers are single.
Yet many single Christians feel pressure to get married or unflagging disappointment over their relationship status. They might experience church as a space primarily for married people with families. They may hear teaching from people they trust that makes them feel like a junior-varsity adult. Or they may simply have a strong desire to be married, and experience daily pain because of that unfulfilled longing.
As a single Christian woman, here are 6 things that have encouraged me. I hope they encourage you too:
Whatever you’re feeling about your singleness is OK
Some of us are single and totally fine with it. Others of us have painful or complicated feelings. I spent much of my 20’s feeling relaxed about being unmarried, but then wondering if there was something wrong with me as my peers were pining after a spouse. Or there have been times when I’ve read articles like these and found something that rubbed me the wrong way, only to discover it was life-giving to someone else.
Singleness is not a monolithic experience. Whatever your emotions are, that is OK. Please always bring those emotions to the Lord, to scripture and to wise counsel. Don’t let those feelings be the only thing that informs your reality. But know that you’re not doing singleness “wrong” just because your feelings about it are different than someone else’s.
Singleness is not a gift
At least, it is not a spiritual gift the way that “Prophesy”, “Teaching” and “Faith” are. Singleness does not appear on any of the Biblical lists of spiritual gifts(1 Cor 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4). Spiritual gifts are special aptitudes given for building up the church. And for each gift, some people have it and some don’t. Think about how church elders must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2), and how someone without this ability is not qualified to be an elder.
Unfortunately, singleness gets conflated with this type of gift. When certain pastors or lay people hear that I am content in my singleness, they respond with, “well, you must have the gift of singleness!”. This thinking is flawed. I am not single because I have a special aptitude for being single. Nor is someone prohibited from being single if they don’t have this aptitude (unlike teaching and eldership). Do we say these things to married people? If my friend says her marriage is going great at the moment, should I respond with, “well, you must have the gift of marriage!”?
Some confusion comes from 1 Corinthians 7, where singleness is actually called a gift. However, we shouldn’t focus only on verse 7 (“I wish that all were [single] like I am. But each has his own gift from God…”), but read all the way through to verse 17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him…” The gift of singleness is a calling, not a spiritual aptitude.
If you are single, you have been gifted with singleness. Once you marry, you no longer have the gift. Spiritual gifts are special aptitudes. Singleness is a life situation. All are given by God for His glory, but are gifts in different ways.
Please don’t spend time wondering if you are especially blessed to be supernaturally good at not being married. Instead, ask God to grow you in your contentment and trust for as long as He calls you to this state. And give thanks to our sovereign, loving, Father who has placed you in this life stage.
You are not a second-class adult
This often gets communicated in subtle ways. A relative asks you about your dating life every time they see you. A pastor up front on Sunday morning prays only for marriages and families but not for single adults. Married friends exclude you from social events, probably because they didn’t even think to invite you. This is a problem with how others’ view singleness, not with your relationship status.
What makes us complete and qualified in the Christian life is the finished work of Christ applied to us by His Holy Spirit, not our relationship status. You are just as capable as married folks of sharing the gospel, impacting the lives of others, contributing to important discussions, serving in your church, being a good friend, and raising the next generation of believers. In fact, Christianity is probably the most pro-single religion out there that still values both single and married people.
Consider that Jesus Christ was single. Yet He lived the most fulfilling, God-honoring life in all of history! He had close relationships with others, and He was a complete person. Today, the same Spirit that empowered Christ lives in every believer. Singleness was good enough for our Savior, so it’s certainly good enough for me. I don’t need a spouse to validate me, I am validated by the finished work of Christ.
Desiring marriage is not wrong, nor is it ultimate
Some of you are single and desire to be married, and it consumes every waking thought. Some feel guilty and embarrassed about your desire, while others are tempted to pursue that desire at all costs. Most vacillate between the two.
For those who feel embarrassed, the thinking goes like this, “God will bring someone at the right time, and I’m supposed to trust God. So these feelings of desire and discontentment are sinful because it means I’m not trusting God. I just need to want marriage less and trust God more.”
The truth is, God designed humans to wed (Genesis 2). Desiring marriage is good and God-glorifying. And, when our desires are not met, it is natural to feel disappointed. Having an unmet desire doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t trusting God.
What matters is what you do in that disappointment. Will you acknowledge that desire, yet move forward by faith? Or will you fixate on it, allowing it to fill your heart and mind? Learning to honor our feelings without idolizing them is difficult.
This is where we must also remember that our desire is not the ultimate thing. Figuring out how to honor our feelings while simultaneously not idolizing them is a bigger topic than I can cover here. But it may help to remember that whenever we are making a good thing into an ultimate thing, we are creating an idol (paraphrasing Tim Keller). This happens when we seek to satisfy a need or a want with something other than God.
Resisting idolatry, then, would include identifying what our needs and wants are, submitting them to God, and openhandedly looking for His provision. For example, the provision for loneliness may be a spouse, or it may be a church family or another lonely friend who needs your help. Or loneliness may be an invitation to lean on the Lord in new ways for a season. The key is to worship God, not the resolution of our loneliness, even while we desperately want resolution. I recommend sitting down with a pastor or a wise single Christian and beginning to work through this together.
We must also guard our theology. Although it’s statistically likely, nowhere are we promised marriage. If you find yourself waiting and longing, bring those things to Christ. Growing closer to Him is the truer treasure.
Singleness has advantages
I love being single! It’s not better than being married, just different. One of the main advantages is the heightened control over your time.
Without family-life distractions, singles often find it easier to care for themselves. It honors God when I steward the mind and body He gave me. It’s easier to make time to exercise, meal plan, and see loved ones.
There is also more time to serve others. Now, in the wrong context this sounds like, “Single people have no life so they can do all the work.” That’s not what I mean. But, I can say “yes” to a four-hour airport drop-off without consulting a spouse, and respond quickly to other needs. Plus, I’m less likely to be overwhelmed or distracted when needs arise.
Similarly, I can pour more time into my friendships. My mom-friends love that my flexible schedule makes it easier to get together. I’ve also hosted Christmas for my single friends and loved it! Having energy to cultivate a wide social circle is a tremendous blessing.
Importantly, I have more time to read the Bible, pray and cultivate my relationship with Jesus. And, to channel 1 Corinthians 7 again, being unmarried spares me from the distractions and sorrows of marriage in a fallen world (verse 28). Of course, I have my own trials, but there are certain heartaches I avoid.
Christ is your bridegroom, and your family is the church
Ultimately marriage is a reflection of the intimacy and commitment present between God and His church. If you do not marry, you are not “missing out” on the best God has for you! You’re only missing the pale imitation, but you still get the real thing.
Being single helps me understand and rely on the church as God’s family. Without a “default” support person, there is space for Christ’s body to meet my needs in a powerful way. I have experienced incredible love, joy, intimacy, safety, and growth from my relationships within the church.
Single Christian, be encouraged. Your joys and sorrows are held by the One who loves you most. He has placed you in this life stage. He is sovereign over your desires. He will use all of this for His glory and your good. And He is pleased with you in Christ.