To be single in our evangelical Christian society is to be different. For most of us, being single isn't what we planned. So we're left with hounding questions: What exactly is God doing with our lives? Why doesn't He give us what we want? Does He really love us? Why has He blessed most of our friends with the very thing we want? Why has He left us out?
I've asked singles across the nation about the emotional struggles they face. They're lonely. Sometimes they're jealous. They feel abandoned. They aren't content, and it seems impossible that they ever could be. They have good days - they go on missions trips and get involved in their church and go to Bible studies and buy houses and throw barbecues. But these difficult emotions lurk in the corners and sometimes take over - like when they get five wedding invitations in the course of one summer.
Some singles take it harder than others. Many of us are an emotional mess. And we think it's impossible to feel any differently about being single — to lose the depression, the loneliness, the longing.
As a single person, I wanted to understand why God put me here. So I set out on a journey in search of the truth about being single. Here's what I learned.
1. You may not get married
"What do you want your life to be like if you never get married?" My friend K.C. challenged me with this question when I was struggling to find contentment being single.
The truth is, God hasn't promised any of us marriage. Time after time, we're told, "God has someone who will be perfect for you!" when God has promised no such thing. God promises to meet our needs; He doesn't promise us a husband or a wife.
It might take some time to process this truth, to let this sink in and to grieve the potential loss of a dream. But the value in accepting this harsh reality is that it allows you to begin to dream new dreams for your life and to live fully the life you've been given today.
2. You are fiercely loved
I've often questioned God's love for me in the midst of my single journey. If God loves me, why hasn't He given me a husband?
C.S. Lewis talks about this in his book, The Problem of Pain. Lewis says our definition of love is wrong; we talk about a loving God, but what we really want when we say that is a senile, grandfatherly kind of God, "whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all.'" Lewis goes on to explain that God's love is truer and fiercer than that — the kind of love a supreme artist lavishes on His ultimate creation, a creation that He wants to mold and shape into the image of Christ.
The fact that God hasn't given you a husband or wife at this point in your life doesn't mean He doesn't love you. It means God, in His love, is using your singleness to mold and shape you to be more like Him and to draw you to Him.
3. You can be content
Many of us believe that to be content, one of two things must happen: We must get married, or we must purge ourselves of any desire to ever be married. Either way, our definition of contentment is completely wrong.
Contentment doesn't eliminate your desires. You can be content today as a single and still want to get married someday. Christ was content going to the cross, but He didn't really want to go. He wanted to do the Father's will, and that desire overshadowed everything else.
Contentment is a decision, not a feeling. It's a determination to be satisfied with what God has given you today. Because of this, it's possible to be content in your single state. And if you practice contentment today, you'll be better prepared for whatever life brings your way.
4. You're right where God wants you to be
One of the biggest struggles we face as Christian singles is wondering whether we've messed up God's plan for our lives. It seems we don't fit into the prescribed pattern for the Christian life, so perhaps we took a wrong turn somewhere — went to the wrong school, took the wrong job, turned someone down for a date when we should have said yes.
The Bible is completely absent of any admonitions to worry about missing God's will. We are instructed to follow Him, but we're never asked to fret about it.
To the contrary, we're presented with a picture of a God who's quite able to move us from place to place if we're not where we ought to be, whether by natural means (as He did calling Mary and Joseph back to Bethlehem for the royal census) or by supernatural means (as He did with Philip when He supernaturally transported him after his meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch).
If you're following God and obeying Him, you have no need to worry about whether you've missed His will for your life.
5. You have no need to be ashamed
In addition to loneliness and jealousy, many of us feel a sense of shame about not being married. We feel awkward when we walk into church alone, as though there's something wrong with us for not being attached to someone else.
Albert Hsu goes into detail in his book Singles at the Crossroads about the family-oriented culture at the time of Christ and in the New Testament era. Jews — even those who were priests — were expected to marry. Family clans formed the basis of the Israelite community, and Hsu suggests that all were expected to have children in some way to guarantee the continuation of the family.
Jesus entered this family-centered universe and made a statement about the value of one single individual. "Jesus came into this Jewish culture and shattered all their prejudices," Hsu explains. "…Dignity and personhood come not from marriage and progeny but from identity within the kingdom of God."
Early Christianity presented singleness as a viable, good alternative, which might in fact make you more profitable in your Christian life - and happier - than marriage and family.
6. Marriage isn't better or worse than singleness - it's just different
My friend Jen got married in her early 30s. We'd been friends for a long time, long enough for her to be really honest about the realities of married life. Jen was content being single but realized after she married that she still expected marriage to make her happy deep down inside. She confided in me that it didn't. Married life had wonderful blessings and unique challenges, but it wasn't any better than being single - just different. She had traded in one set of blessings and challenges for another.
The extent to which we're able to be content being single depends really on what we believe about marriage. Do we believe we're missing out?
7. You can change the way you feel about being single by changing the way you think about being single
Most of us believe, in general, that we can't control our feelings. Actually, it is possible to change the way you feel. Your thoughts and feelings are intricately connected. To be emotionally healthy, your thoughts must be full of truth.
If you think your married friends are better off, that God has overlooked you, that you've missed His plan for your life, you'll be miserable. If, on the other hand, you know you're right where God wants you to be, that being unattached isn't a badge of shame, and that marriage doesn't bring instant fulfillment, your emotions will be transformed.
What do you really believe about being single? Are there lies at the root of your negative emotions? Track them down, root them out, and replace them with God's truth. Your feelings will change, and you'll find a world of possibilities in your single life.