Lizzie Keegan has been a part of Midtown church family for a little over two years. She moved to Columbia to work with InterVarsity, a campus ministry, after doing ministry in Virginia for six years. She loves her work of walking alongside college students as they learn to follow Jesus.
As a single woman in my thirties working in college ministry, my life is full of conversations about singleness and dating and marriage. Since so many of the students and friends I talk to are single, much of the conversation centers around waiting for “the one”. What will he be like? How will I know if she is “the one”? Does he really like me? I really hope I am not called to singleness. How do I know if I am called to singleness? As I wade through these questions in conversations, and sometimes ask them myself, I am often struck by the panic with which people talk about singleness. Beneath our questions is the lingering belief that somehow singleness is a punishment.
Our culture, the church, our families, and our friends often perpetuate the idea that eventually our lives will lead to the point of finding “the one” - a significant other who will finally be our “happily ever after”. We spend our childhood and adolescence assuming marriage will be our future and we are confused when we find ourselves single. We assume that something must be wrong.
The truth that single people have to wrestle through is that not only are we not guaranteed “the one”, we are not even guaranteed “one”. Marriage is not promised for anyone and despite what we may believe, it is not a better or more rewarding life than singleness. Singleness, like marriage, is a way that God has intended us to live that can be hard and lonely but can also be vibrant and full of Gospel-goodness. Yes, there are unique challenges to singleness, just like there are unique challenges to marriage, but there are also unique blessings to singleness as well. The blessings of singleness do not have to be the silver lining to a disappointing life but rather they can be joys unto themselves.
Perhaps one of the most misused verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13 where Paul says: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” Though you have most likely seen this on an athletic sign, Paul’s intent was not an encouragement for competition. Look at what Paul says right before in verse 12: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul is saying that God’s strength empowers us to get through anything in life by learning contentment.
When I tell people that I am content in my singleness, I think they often misunderstand what I mean. People assume I mean that I do not desire marriage or a family of my own and that God just gave me a magical gift of not desiring it. That is not the case at all. Like Paul, I have learned (and am constantly learning) how to be content. Contentment is not a moment where God releases us from desiring the thing we want; contentment is a posture that we learn by believing and choosing to live in the truth that God’s way is better than our desires. Being content in singleness does not mean we never feel lonely or sad, rather it means that we are learning, day by day, to trust Jesus precisely in the moments of loneliness and sadness.
One of the biggest barriers to learning contentment in singleness is that we are taught to wait for marriage. We wait in line at the store because we see that our lane has a cashier working. We wait for a phone call from a friend who said they would call. We wait for results from a test that we have already taken. We only actively wait for what we know is coming - yet so many single people wait for marriage to fully live their lives. We wait for something that we do not know is coming before we allow ourselves to do the things we long to do. Some of the best advice I received about living fully as a single woman was to not wait to do “adult” things until I got married. Rather than wait for something that may or may not come, we get to live our lives fully now -- settle down, buy a house, visit cool places, vacation with friends, etc. For my group of single friends, this means we vacation together every year (thanks Adam for starting Friend Cruise!).
The other barrier we must admit is the belief that marriage is a reward. Too often I hear people telling each other what they need to do or work on in order to get married - as though marriage is a prize to be won. When we make marriage a reward, we treat God as a stingy and withholding Father rather than seeing Him as the generous and gracious Father that He is. A lot of that is rooted in the culture and church’s idolatry of marriage. We are told, both overtly and subtly, that marriage will bring a more joyful and complete life. Single Christians have the opportunity to show the church and the world that we can live a full life in the kingdom without a spouse.
Once we have seen the barriers in ourselves and the world around us, how do we go about living in the contentment that Paul says is possible in Christ? Here are three encouragements for practically living out of contentment:
- Pursue deep friendships: One of the biggest losses in a society that idolizes romance is that we place less value on deep, intimate, committed friendships. God created humanity for relationship - not necessarily for marriage, but for relationship. We are made to live in community where we are known and loved. You do not need marriage in order to have relationships where you are known, loved, valued, and celebrated. Not only were we made for relationship, we were created for relationship with the opposite sex. We long to be known and loved by the opposite sex because cross-gender relationships reflect God’s image in a unique way. Although single people may never experience the intimacy with the opposite sex that comes in marriage, we can have healthy intimacy in cross-gender friendships. As I talk with good friends and college students about singleness, those who treat the opposite sex as off limits for friendship often have a worse view of singleness and feel more frustrated by it. However, my friends who have healthy cross-gender friendships enjoy the partnership that men and women were created for, even in singleness.
- Spend your singleness well: Most single people have the opportunity to get a full night of sleep every night. We get to choose what we do each weekend and with our free time. Use your time for kingdom service. Serve in the church. Live missionally in the city. Married people are called to these things as well, but as single people we are able to use our time in different ways. Use the extra space you have as a single person to love families well. Bring coffee to a tired mom. Make dinner for your friends whose kids are sick. Some of the most life-giving relationships I have are the ones where I get to enter the beautiful chaos of a family because of my independence as a single woman.
- Remind yourself daily that God’s plan is always better than your plan for yourself: Paul tells us that contentment is learned - and how do we learn things? We tell ourselves over and over until we remember. Learning contentment in singleness requires repeating to yourself, and having community repeat to you, the truth of God’s goodness and His control over your life. Confess the lies you believe about singleness, marriage, and God’s plan for your life. Remind yourself of the truth: your good heavenly Father knows what is best for you. His way is always best.
For those of us who are single, God invites us to learn to be content in life without “the one” or even “one” at all. We get to learn day in and day out, just like married people, that God’s love is the only path to truth contentment.