Singleness: Punishment or Blessing?


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 

Sermon Recap | "One day you will find 'the one.'” 

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. - 1 Corinthians 7:6-9

1. Singleness and marriage are both good gifts, each with their own unique benefits. 

Your goal, whether single or married, is to leverage your life to give glory and honor to Jesus.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • In what ways am I selfishly focused on myself and my own happiness?
  • Where am I believing culture’s views about romance instead of trusting Jesus?

2. When romance becomes God, disappointment will follow.

Check out Genesis 29 for a case study.

3. We need to find contentment in God’s love that will never disappoint.

Dear Single Ladies

Toni Lawrimore, the author of this post is a recent graduate school alum and a single woman in our church family.

Dear Single Ladies:

When I was younger, I had a plan. I was going to go to college, meet my husband, get engaged my senior year, and get married as soon as I graduated. My plan was pretty typical of many women: grow up, get married, and have a family. However, as the years passed, I met each milestone with one exception: I stayed single.

Over the past several years I’ve wrestled with seasons of fear, loneliness, and doubt.  Through it all I’ve come to not only love my singleness, but come to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is because of how He’s walked through this struggle with me.  But I know that sometimes, the struggle is so real and I want to remind you of some important truths:

On Loneliness:

I hear it all too often in culture, from friends, from family, and in my own inner monologue that to be single is to be alone. That is not true. The Huffington post recently wrote: “researchers discovered that fulfillment was overwhelmingly found in one thing: relationships–but not necessarily romantic relationships.”

They are correct. Fulfillment in the life of a believer is found in relationship with Christ. We are wholly loved and accepted in the fact that the almighty God sent His Son to save us from a lifetime of loneliness and an eternity without Him.  And because of that, we are never alone (Matthew 28:20).

Furthermore, Jesus has invited us into and given us church family, in which we can belong. Romans 12 puts it simply:  “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Because we are adopted into God’s family, we belong to each other:  in that, we are never left behind to be alone.

A significant other can not fully fulfill us, nor are they needed to do so.

On Missing Out:

Whether my longing for a romantic relationship is motivated out of sinful insecurity or a desire for a lifelong ministry partner, both of these are fulfilled in relationship with Christ. Jesus answers our insecurity with his mercy and our loneliness with His presence. Right now, in this moment, you are exactly where the Creator God would have you. He is sovereign and cares for you.

So no, single sisters, we are not missing out. We have spiritual children available to us through discipleship relationships and a ministry partner in the Lord. We lack nothing in Christ.

On that Out-of-Reach Dream Wedding:

I’ve been in over seven weddings at this point in my life and it never fails. Every single time I am a part of a friend’s wedding, I cry. In general, the tears have little to do with the actual union of the couple. Of course I am happy for my friends, but I get overwhelmed at the beauty of what the ceremony symbolizes.

It is the ultimate, tangible picture of what awaits the Church when she is united to Jesus as depicted in Revelation 21. Jesus, the bridegroom, stands joyful and overcome as His Bride, the Church, approaches clad in purity despite her past–despite all the history she has left behind.

Both marriage and singleness on this earth are temporary, lasting only as long as we live. The fact of the matter is whether I am married or single on this earth, there is a greater joy waiting for all of us when we see our Savior face to face. Any loneliness or insecurity we experience now will fade away when we finally experience the presence of our God.

Ultimately, our lives are about marriage – but not a temporary marriage here on earth; an eternal one that it is to come. We get to serve and live in relationship with a loving God here on earth and for all eternity.

Making Use of the Meantime

So, the question is: what do I do in the mean time? What do I do when the desire for an earthly family or marriage is overwhelming?

  1. Draw near to Jesus. In prayer, in study, in serving, we come before the throne of grace because Jesus is enough. Even if our stubborn hearts do not always believe it, it is true: He is enough.
  2. Draw near to community. Church family does not exist for our fulfillment, but they are a tool Jesus uses for mutual support and encouragement. They are also a safe place for vulnerability and confession. We can admit when we are believing a boyfriend would satisfy us more than Jesus. We can confess our discontentment and our fears. We do not have to go through life alone. We are not alone.
  3. Remember your purpose. One day when we lay eyes on people from every nation, tribe, and tongue praising Jesus for eternity, none of this will matter. Our struggles on this earth will be considered light, momentary, and fleeting as we see Jesus in all of His glory. The more we focus on our identity in Christ and our purpose of making disciples, the more content we will with or without a husband and/or children.

When I was younger, I had a plan: get married and have a family before twenty-five. Though God’s plan was different than mine, I am thankful for that mercy. Singleness is a gift. Jesus has used it to help me love God’s plan for my life, to love my church family and to love my purpose even more. Whether your singleness is a short season or a longer one, either way Jesus is faithful to use it for our good and His glory.