Single and Happy

March 21, 2019

This week the Wall Street Journal published an article called “Mastering the Art of Being Single,” which reminded me of the following article I originally posted back in 2012. I’ve updated a few sections.

Since 2012 the number of single adults in the U.S. has nearly equaled the number of married adults. According to the WSJ article, as of 2017 “more than 120 million U.S. residents, or almost 48% of adults aged 18 or older were divorced, widowed or had never been married.” That’s up from 39 million in 1970. They call the rise of singles “one of the biggest demographic trends of the past 50 years.”

Women today are single for a variety of reasons. Some are completing their education and getting established in a career before getting married. Some are taking advantage of their freedom to engage in ministry and mission work. The average age of first marriage is closing in on 30, although some women are cohabitating at an earlier age. This twenty-something group also, of course, includes women who would like to be married but are waiting to find the elusive “Mr. Right.” Not to be disregarded are those women who are uninterested in ever being married, some of whom commendably choose to devote their lives to the service of God and his people. 

On the other side of marriage are a number of women who are now divorced or widowed. Some are still grieving the loss of their relationship and their dreams of a life that may now never be. Single women with children still at home are also probably struggling to stay afloat financially. Many of them are physically and emotionally exhausted and would really like a partner who could help them carry the load. Some women without kids at home are content as they are and in no hurry to return to the altar. 

(In his book Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg said that an increasing number of people have chosen to live alone and are willing to pay a premium for it. Rather than being lonely and isolated, these people actually become more socially active and civically engaged.)

The one thing all of these single women have in common is that they can be alienated by churches and Christians who

1.focus myopically on traditional families as their target market and
2. lump all single people into a homogenous group of “misfits.”

In her book Table for One, Camerin Courtney noted, “I love the church. I am the church. But there are times when I feel more like its black-sheep spinster aunt than one of its valued daughters.” 

Lauren Winner, author of Real Sex, asks, “Why is it so hard for preachers to illustrate their sermons, just occasionally, with a reference to tension between roommates instead of the challenges of marriage? 

Maybe we Christians could try to be a little more like Jesus in our sensitivity to and appreciation of single women. Jesus seemed willing to accept women regardless of their marital status and responded to them as individuals. When he encountered the widow of Nain mourning the loss of her only son, his heart went out to her, and he returned her son to life. On the other hand, after healing single women like Mary Magdalene and Susanna, he allowed them to travel with him, care for his needs, and support him financially (Luke 8:1-3). The single sisters Mary and Martha were close friends of Jesus and regularly hosted him in Mary’s home. The Gospels never record an instance in which Jesus advised a single woman to go find a husband, nor did any of his teachings reflect this view. He seemed to welcome single women as partners in his ministry. 

Paul had particular concerns about the urgency of advancing the kingdom, but read what he had to say and consider whether his rationale might also be relevant in today’s world:

Now 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. …

But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But 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 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. …

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

(I Corinthians 7:8-9, 28, 32-35, 39-40)

Without slighting married women in any way (I was married for nearly 30 years, myself, and remarried 2 years ago after a divorce), I merely suggest that we need to think again about how the church views singleness, especially when single people make up half the population. 

– We need to see single women as whole people just as they are and acknowledge their great value to the kingdom—and not only as babysitters for married people’s children. 

– We need to remember that there are many reasons for being single and consider single women and their needs as individuals. 

– We need to support single women in accepting their current situation, which may or may not change someday. Lauren Winner suggests that we start “asking the single person not only who are you dating? But how is God calling you to be faithful now as you are?” 

– We need to include single women in all aspects of church life and integrate them in mixed communities of people of various ages and life circumstances. 

– We need to support adult single women (and men) in the discipline of chastity. Why do we stop talking to people about biblical abstinence after they graduate from high school? 

By the way, the WSJ reported that some recent studies are finding that “singles today are more satisfied with their lives than singles in the past … and people who are single become more satisfied with their lives as they grow older.” We can stop now trying to “fix” or “fix up” people who don’t actually feel broken.

Wife and mother are high callings but they aren’t the only callings. You would be hard pressed to find Jesus favoring any marital or parental status in the Gospels. His earthly ministry showed us that in the Kingdom being a daughter of God is reason enough to be valued.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

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