Growing up, there was ever one valid verse on singleness that was regularly preached from the Bible: ” Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9) It was always interpreted as an impossible task; so the emphasis on this verse wasn’t on how good singleness was, but on how necessary marriage is. As if being tempted and losing control was a foregone conclusion and only marriage could serve as the proper outlet for one’s passions – this was something without exception. For some odd reason, the rest of 1 Corinthians 7 was never included on the discussion of singleness, but to be fair, they never really talked about singleness except to use it as a segue onto marriage, the only thing the church really cares about. Had they read the rest of it, they might have seen this passage (among others):
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. 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.”
Christianity finds itself in a world of increasing singleness; to which it’s sole response is to continually preach about marriage and only marriage as the right way to live. It’s failure to speak to singleness means that an increasing number of people are being sent the wrong message – one that says that they’re selfish or immature for not having graduated to the next level and they have nothing to say to them until they do.
But the thing is – the stories of the Bible aren’t just stories of husbands for husbands to replicate or examples of wives for wives to follow – they’re human stories featuring a cast of characters from all walks of life; old, young, married, single, wealthy, poor, in a simple relationship, in a complicated relationship, from a good family, from a bad family – for many of these people and their stories, their marriage isn’t exactly the most important thing about them. After all, we know that David and Saul were both very married, but you’d be hard pressed to find mention of all their wives by names. Deborah was married, but there’s barely a mention of her husband – probably because being married is a part of their story, but it is not who they are as people.
Which is something singles need to hear – being single is a part of your story, but it’s not necessarily who you are as a person. The pressure to marry young and have children early is a way of keeping a young couple busy – by taking away any time they might have used to figure out who they were, what they like, but it’s also a dangerous time as a young person might realize that they’re quite capable and not necessarily helpless on their own. They run the risk of getting set in their ways – which explains why there’s the rush to get young people married. But for the long-term single, he or she has all the time in the world to write their own story and find that which brings him or her satisfaction and happiness. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Instead of bringing self-doubt to into any future relationship, self-knowledge creates a firm foundation of confidence and a frame of reference for someone you’re getting to know and someone who is getting to know you.
And some, like a co-worker of mine, is quite happy in his singleness and not looking to change that in the foreseeable future. Why should he continually be subjected to messages like: “You’re not really happy unless you’re dating/married!”? Maybe it’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy, the churches’ relentless messages about marriage, singles feeling frustrated about their situation, wondering if the grass truly is greener on the other side … it’s just that the church never really puts that shoe on the other foot.
“You married people will be single again one day, perhaps you’ll be widows and widowers, so pay attention to these directions so that you’ll know how to live …”
But the core of Christianity is a message for anyone from any walk of life, that you are loved, that you have a spiritual family, that you are needed, that sort of thing. And so here’s to the ones who are so very often left out and on their own. May you find your long-due measure of happiness. As for me, I’m having a slice of Singles’ Day cake … and then maybe a game of solitaire. Let’s do what the world doesn’t celebrate every one of us – because there will only be one of each of us.