What should married people know about the experience of singleness?

If you have an answer to this question please leave it on the blog. I’m away from social media during Lent so any comments left there will be sadly unread. Thanks! 

During Lent we are preaching through a series called Undivided in which we’re looking at some of the things that separate Christians. As an intentionally multi-ethnic church we spend plenty of time exploring how the gospel addresses divisions brought about by race, ethnicity, culture and the like. But it’s good for us to remember that there are more subtle sources of division that we experience, whether or not we even notice them most of the time.

Image by Esther Gallentine for New Community.
Image by Esther Gallentine for New Community.

Last week I preached about the ways single people and married people can experience divisions between these two hard-to-summarize relational statuses. This coming Sunday our church will hear from a panel of married and single people who will share their experiences as it relates to divisions and unity in this area.

As I told our church last Sunday, because Maggie and I were married relatively young, I don’t have any real memory of singleness, especially as experienced by many in our church. So, what should I know? Or better: If you, as a single person, were sitting on this panel on Sunday, what question would you hope to be asked? (I’m interested too in questions married people would like to be asked, it’s just that I feel slightly less ignorant about that experience.)

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

11 thoughts on “What should married people know about the experience of singleness?”

  1. My experience with singleness lasted from ages 28-33, after a 10 year long relationship. Yes, it was painful. I came to Christ in that time.

    I would share that Loneliness is a gift. Yes, fulfillment is found in God. But oftentimes that seemed to create an expectation that I should be deliriously satisfied in my singleness. Even Jesus felt lonely – misunderstood by the disciples, abandoned by them, rejected by His people. “Will you go away too,” He asks mournfully (John 6). If Jesus felt lonely, I have a right to feel lonely. It is a small piece of the Cross and the Passion. It is Jesus’s heart dwelling within my heart. The gift of loneliness is to engage with it, and thus, Him. The mistake is trying to cover it with the world, cure it spiritually, or make it go away.

    It taught me about my frailty, and it taught me not to be willful. Frailty – because clearly I struggled with it, and I learned eventually that it is okay to be frail before the Lord! Willfulness – because my will seemed to waver between two courses of action: find someone quick, or be celibate/single forever. The Holy Spirit let my will wear itself out. I let go of my expectations, *without* letting go of my hopes.
    I did eventually get married, but that was not the resolution of my singleness. Even in marriage, it is possible to be lonely, willful or frail! I continue to learn. I hope this is a blessing to someone.

  2. It takes a lot of work and risk to build intimacy with people. It takes time to find the people who are just as committed to you as you may be to them, bearing in mind that there is no “covenant” to bind you to one another. As much as we would want relationships to last forever, singleness makes me aware that relationships may often be temporary.

  3. I’ve been single for ten years now. Relating with people doesn’t come naturally to me and I don’t have any friends or know anyone my age. I would have loved to have been encouraged to do what I can, learn what I can, figure out who I am as an individual all that time, but most of the time when people meet me they ask the usual: “Are you dating anyone yet? Why not? You’re an attractive person. I’ll be praying for you that God sends you the one.” I actually had to leave my last denomination because they were starting up a ‘covenant marriage’ Bible study and I had my fill with the pressure to marry and the sense that I wasn’t a complete true Christian unless I had a family and kids. For a little while I was mad at God until I realized that Paul thought very highly of singleness and I decided to figure out how to be content in my situation. I’ve given up dreaming for things that God clearly hasn’t seen fit to give me over the last decade. I lament that I had to give up the denomination I grew up in, but I’m far better off now. I’m still as single as Paul, but for once I’m okay with it.

  4. I’ve only been single for 8 years, but I think there’s a common misconception among at least my married friends in their yearning to better learn intimacy with God and know Him as the bridegroom that this is best accomplished as single and more free time, without the constraints of dividing His attention with your wife and children. They sometimes say I wish I was single again like you; I’d have so much more time to devote to a relationship with God and prayer, ministry if it were just me and Him… As if a relationship with the Lord were meant to be performance based. Personally, I feel new wisdom from my life experiences, but don’t feel any bit closer to the Lord as my bridegroom now than I did 10 years ago when I was at a place in life leaning towards marriage. I think each experience and lifestyle is meant for our faith and character development. You learn a different kind of trust in the “my grace is sufficient” when you’re tempted to avoid outings with happy couples, suffering insomnia as a result of loneliness or boredom, or feel isolated from significant milestones in adult life due to the glamorized culture of young romance, than you would relying on that same “my grace is sufficient” to be able to remain patient with a moody spouse, or to be able to only have eyes for that same one person for the rest of your life and not try to change them. Both situations are counter our instincts to take control of our situation to progress, but instead we’re forced to learn how to “just be.” Maybe that’s why Paul warns to be content in wherever you are in life whether you’re married or single, because intimacy with God actually just comes in the joining and not fighting whatever his plans/timing/clutter/emptiness/ or business is for our lives.

  5. First, I would approach the whole experience from a strengths based approach. It’s very easy to fall into complaining or whining about the difficulties of whatever our current life experience is and there are many positive and uplifting ways to support each other.

    It makes all the difference when we see the strengths and gifts in each other – it’s foundational for healthy relationships. So, I would ask single folks on the panel what they think is really great about singleness.

    Often, it is a parent and then a spouse who affirms our gifts, encourages us in our career, helps us make big decisions, etc. As a single person I have to be my own advocate and take risks (move for a new job, etc) and it can be very scary to do it on my own. It has made all the difference when a community of people who care about me has come around me to affirm my gifts, skills, and potential. So, I would relate this question to the one above and ask the panel how married people can affirm, support, and encourage the gifts of single folks.

    Some of my most rewarding and fulfilling relationships are with married friends who have incorporated me into their family life. This looks different for different people but I value being able to hang out with my friends’ kids and to be friends with both spouses. So, I would ask the panel what ideal friendships with married folks looks like for them.

    Last, single folks often feel they have a broken relationships with the church. So, I would ask the panel what the ideal church for single people looks like? What do people do in the church that make it a good place for single folks? How do people behave in the church that makes it a good place for single folks?

    Ultimately, as a single person I want to be valued and invested in and I want the opportunity to do the same for married folks.

  6. There are a lot of things I would like married people in the church to know about the experience of singleness, but one of the biggest things is I don’t want to be pitied, I want to be valued and supported. I don’t think I am something that needs to be fixed and there have been many times when individuals have said something meant as helpful that have instead, done harm. Please don’t say, “You are so great, how is it you are still single?!” This, while meant as a compliment, almost always makes me say to God, “Yeah, I am pretty great. Why am I still single!” Which, if I dwell on this thought leads to my distrust in God and His plans for my life. Please don’t say, “You will make some man very lucky one day.” or “Don’t worry, your time will come.” These are also meant to be kind, but frankly, those making these comments do not know the future or God’s plans or timing and can not guarantee that these things are true. Again, when I dwell on these, I question God, His timing, and ultimately grow angry and unsatisfied with Him and my life path.

    Another important thing to keep in mind is being single is quiet. A lot of time is spent alone when you are single, but alone is not always bad. Alone does not necessarily mean lonely. Of course there are times of loneliness, but rarely do I experience loneliness when I am physically alone. It is more likely that I experience these feelings when I am part of a large gathering attended mostly by couples. People tend to gravitate to those most like them and in these large settings it can be difficult to find someone to talk with if couples only seek out other couples. (And please don’t suggest that I talk only with other singles.) As a 37 year old single woman, I find much more in common with people near my own age whether they are single or not than I do with the single crowd in their early twenties. I would love to see the church work to build relationships everywhere. I enjoy relationships with younger singles because I can share what I have learned through my experiences, but I know I would benefit from relationships with singles who are older than me so I can learn from their experiences with singleness, and also I want relationships with married couples and families.

    I think one of the most important things is to learn our personal stories and hopes for the future before saying “helpful” things. Some singles have chosen that path and don’t have a desire to marry while others, like myself, still hope for marriage and family some day. These two types of singles want and need different things from the body of Christ.

  7. Not commenting to answer your question but just to say I’m encouraged (again) by your church going to those conversations and places not visited by many. And I appreciate the post and especially the responsive comments. Thanks!

  8. I have been single all my life… the seasons of singleness change. What singleness means in your 20’s and 30’s is very different than what it means in your 40’s and 50’s. And very different for single men and single women where biology and cultural values play such different roles. So, I think it would be good for people to hear where people are in relationship to their singleness. Do they embrace it? Is it a gift? Is it a cause for grief? Or all of the above? Rather than people dictating how I should real about my singleness (which is often the case), I would rather people walk with me through the stages. I also think a conversation about physical intimacy would be important. Where do singles find the physical intimacy that is so important to health and well-being? How is your church doing at being a place where such intimacy can be shared in healthy, holy, meaningful ways? As singles we can go days without being touched by another human being… (Of course now that I am a single mom, that has all changed!)

  9. Thanks to everyone for you very thoughtful comments. I’m drawing directly from some of the things you shared as I head into this panel discussion. If possible, I’ll share video or audio of the panel on the blog so you can see how your contributions played out.

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