Heartache is brutal. We get hurt and hurt each other for a multitude of reasons: regret, resentment, rejection, and many other things that hurt just as much as the others. Sometimes there are moments that cause you to relive the heartache all over again. It’s like the wounds start to heal, but they can easily hurt the same way again with a little pressure. In the 21st Century world of romance, especially in our Christian subculture, the desire to be single is really the outcome of heartache. We are sick of being hurt, and sick of hurting others. We just want to quit this race to the marriage line. In fact, we forget we are on a line that runs much longer than an earthly marriage…but that’s for another post. The point is, it doesn’t feel good anymore to think about marriage, it’s more like something that causes anxiety and a pressure to make yourself spouse-material. The further along the road you get, the more unlikely you seem to be to succeed at finding the person that’s supposed to be your life partner and helper in the ministry of your family. It just seems easier to quit.
The Lonely Logic:
Jesus was single; Paul was single; Elijah was single; those guys seemed to have been able to make it, why can’t I? The thought of prolonged singleness sounds pleasant because it puts distance between you and the pain of your past, but if it is only used as a coping mechanism for unresolved heartache, then at what point are you trusting God with your cares and casting them on Him (1 Pet. 5:5-7)? You can avoid it all you want, but there is still that nagging desire inside of you to find someone to be with, and you can’t just shake it off and hope it goes away. But, you can tame it and teach it…something we don’t consider in our fantasies of retreat.
What many of us who are single don’t realize is that if you spoke to someone who has been married for, say, twenty years, you’d only come to find out that the heartache often increases with time. Spouses can still reject each other, even though they accepted the responsibility of being married for life to one person. The pain can last longer, go deeper, and conflicts will continue. Yet, there is a hope and pleasure in the pain. When handled with forgiveness and grace that only Jesus can provide in the gospel, the balm of healing can be applied to the wounds of sin and the love will grow deeper than it ever could had there never been conflict. If we think this road is going to get easier, it isn’t: but, what happens next is not to keep treading along in the same way or quit the race entirely. Our pace needs to change.
One text that single Christians wrestle over and can easily mishandle is 1 Corinthians 7. This passage is perplexing to some because it almost sounds as if Paul was displeased with married people and wishes they could divorce (if that were possible in God’s eyes). It almost makes you feel guilty for wanting to get married. But, we need to look at the situation Paul was facing:
The church in Corinth was a mess in that a group of believers in the church were clearly disobedient; they needed rebuke and restoration. Inasmuch as the gospel was still present and did affect the hearts of the people (hence, there was a church still), the Christians present alternated between extremities in the areas of excessive drinking and sexual sin (1 Cor. 6), divisions over who they followed (3-4), the gifts of the Spirit (12-14), and between untamed sexual passion and prolonged singleness (7) Here you find a church where people indulged in sexual sin and it was blatant (5), and the response of some was that it was more godly to be single and not married. The classic idea of “less is more” followed, and in their eyes, the more you deny physical and emotional wants, the more sanctified you were. I suppose if you visited a believer back then in that camp, they’d say “I just want to follow God’s will and I can only really do that by being single.” It sounds good because it has a ring of truth to it. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:20ff), and Jesus was single and it didn’t stop Him from fulfilling the Father’s will. But, here’s the thing: we are not Jesus. We are not headed to the cross to die for the sins of all believers. He left us an example (1 Jn. 2:1-5), and we can learn from His singleness, but that doesn’t mean that we should set in stone that singleness is more holy anymore than saying that forty days of fasting is required for a Christian to be authentic. All Christians are called to holiness, not all Christians are called to singleness. Often our reasons to retreat into singleness can be worse than actually not wanting to stay single.
And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Matthew 19:9-12)
The early Christians of 1 Corinthians 7 did not desire to end the pursuit of marriage because of heartache (“I want to quit wanting to be married!”), but to suppress it because for them to withdraw was better than to enjoy sexual expression in marriage. What gave them significance in their singleness was the idea that it was “better” in every way from marriage, when in fact it was better for reasons other than their own. This is not the picture God wants us to see.
You are a born again (Jn. 3:1-10), recreated (2 Cor. 5:17), empowered (Rom. 8:1-4, Eph. 4), authentic (Ezek. 36:26), renewed (Rom. 12:1-2), and adopted child of God (Rom. 8:26). Your identity is new, eternal, and the reality that is always with you. You are more than your singleness, but singleness is a part of where you are now. Use it. Tame it. Love it. Don’t give up on it, but run the race with endurance knowing where it’s all directed towards in the end: God’s eternal glory (Heb. 12:1-4).
Marriage itself is good, self-control is also good, but don’t compromise either: enjoy both self-control and marriage when it comes along. Guard your desires and your heart, but don’t sacrifice it on the altar of “less is more”- for a time, if you are called to marriage, you are called to less, but remember that you can never gain more than what Christ has already promised and given you (Eph. 1:3).
Until next time,