A few years ago, my mother and I had a very honest and loving conversation about singleness. She said that she loved exactly who God made me to be, but it has always been challenging for her to understand my life as an unmarried single woman since so much of her happiness and satisfaction is connected to my dad, my siblings, and me. I can’t blame her. We are pretty amazing. But even though I adore my family, I’ve never considered that I’ve missed out on a family of my own. I actually think I’ve gained more.
I need to lay my cards on the table here: I have never dreamed of walking down an aisle in a white gown, I have never met a man that I thought could be “the one,” I’m not envious of friends who have a husband and children, unless those friends have a handy-man, lawn-cutting, landscape-designer kind of husband.
I have many dear friends who deeply desire marriage. The pain of this unfulfilled longing is burdensome. Many people, both married and unmarried, are in the middle of a life that they would have never chosen. But, either way, this is the life that our sovereign Father has for them right now and he always gives grace (Phil. 4:11-13).
I, however, believe that I have a gift.
I have read a number of articles and books on how singles are ignored and misunderstood in the church. We are. I’ve read heavy testimonies about how women have prayed for years for a spouse that the Lord doesn’t seem to want to provide. That happens far too often. But, this article isn’t about challenges in the church or unfulfilled personal longings. It’s about the gift of singleness.
Now, I’m not going to provide a secret recipe that makes lemonade out of a bowl full of lemons to help you accept your circumstances. It’s not about surviving until we finally learn whatever the Lord was trying to teach us during the waiting game of singleness, only to then receive the blessing and celebration of a long-awaited actual gift. No. This is about the gift that the Apostle Paul had, the same gift that 11 of the 12 disciples had. It’s about the gift that Mary, Martha, Lazarus and probably most of your favorite biblical characters had. And let’s not forget about our Lord Jesus. The Son of Man was the most fully human person who ever lived, and he was an unmarried virgin. I’d like to suggest that the ability to serve the Lord with less anxieties (1 Cor. 7) is a true and real gift that blesses a child of God, brings glory to the Father, and is affirmed throughout scripture.
To understand where we are, we have to turn back the pages of church history. Just before the Reformation, virtually every single church worker (both male and female) was mandated to live a life of celibacy. Some church leaders thought that sex (even within marriage!) was sinful and having a family of his or her own convoluted a minister’s ability selflessly serve the congregation. Although Jesus (Matt. 19) and Paul (I Cor. 7) state that celibacy is only for those who are gifted with it, the church seemed to force a square peg into a round hole by requiring a life of celibacy for ministers. Even the early church father, Jerome, stated: “Christ loves virgins more than others, because they willingly give what is not commanded of them.”
Now, I am not suggesting that Jerome was right, but I wonder if we’ve lost a robust teaching on the blessing and honor of a life of celibacy since we’ve begun to “focus on the family” so much. Has the pendulum swung so far since the Reformation that we’ve ceased to embrace the beauty and gift of singles in the church? Have we forgotten the promise in Isaiah 56:5, that those without children will be given “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters”?
I remember one of my seminary professors, when teaching on 1 Corinthians 7, stating that those in the class who were still single ought to consider remaining single for the sake of “undivided devotion” (1 Cor. 7:35) to the kingdom. You could have heard a pin drop. Eyes grew big. The guys started to uncomfortably look at each other as if to whisper, “Is he crazy?”
But, I (the lone woman) was mesmerized. This professor went on to say that he adored his wife and family and was called to them. He couldn’t imagine his life without them, but he also recalled that any time he ever had to say “no” to ministry, it was usually because of the limitations that family life required of him. He simply said, “It’s something that you should consider and pray about.”
Are you willing to pray about singleness? If you’re already married and happen to be blessed with children, are you willing to pray for your children in a way that offers their calling to singleness or marriage to the Lord, whatever he decides?
I find that many believers avoid praying about lifelong singleness the same way that many believers avoid praying about becoming a missionary. We are terrified of his answer and we’re afraid we can’t hack it. Singleness is a calling and a gift, but it is a good gift and a good calling. And, like everything, if God calls us, he will equip us (2 Cor. 9:8).
About the Author:
Sue Harris serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director. She has a passion for spiritual formation as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University.