For as long as I’ve been in ministry, one of the major complaints about anything to do with love and sexuality comes from single people. To them, it feels like Church is a big match-making service that treats you like a poxy git if you are not married by the time you are of legal drinking age. They feel like we label them as loners, stereotype them as dysfunctional, and pity them like paupers.
But here is the good news: it’s okay to be single. It’s okay to be single for a long time. It’s okay to be single for a variety of reasons: There is nothing you need from another person in order to be fully yourself; the sense of separation you experience as a single person is the same sensation we have as married people. Despite the fact that we are two-made-one, we are never fully whole until the resurrection.
Marrying someone just to get married is one of the most foolish things anyone can do, and yet many Christians do precisely that.
Single living affords you opportunities that married people have not had for a long time and will likely not have again until retirement: travel, disposable income, mobility, career opportunities, etc
Singles have a unique opportunity, like the Apostle Paul, to give themselves wholly into missionary work, pastoral ministry, or into the most dangerous avenues of human existence. Married people, and particularly parents, cannot do this with the same ease. In fact, sometimes the very thing that would make you a great missionary would actually be the thing that makes someone else a disastrous parent and spiritual leader in their own home.
Likewise, it is not good to pressure single people to get married for a variety of reasons: Singles may be pressured into marriages they may not otherwise have chosen for themselves. Singles may be pressured into marriages that occur prematurely. Singles may feel unable to speak honestly about their struggles pertaining to singleness because they feel like you just want to fix them so they can get married. Singles may grow distant and aloof from you because they are tired of being judged or (only slightly better) being the recipient of the same boring lecture focusing on the same single issue time and again. Singles may grow distant from church altogether (and, often, from God as well) because it feels like Church is just for the married people to get together and talk about diapers and mortgages.
There is nothing wrong with being single, and yet being single presents some peculiar challenges for an adult. You have to live chastely even though no one expects you to, requires you to, or believes you when you do.
Yes, chastity is hard and celibacy is worse, but, if you are committed to following Jesus, that is the path set before you. Yes, to be celibate is to live in incompleteness, unwholeness and inconsummation, in a loneliness that God himself has set to redress through marriage, but getting married won’t automatically (or fully) fix that anyway.
Moreover, even once you begin living chastely, no one will believe you. Your Christian friends will stop asking for fear that you’ll divulge some secret and they’ll feel awkward because of your sin, and your non-Christian friends will just think you are being coy. Because no one is likely to believe you, the temptation will be to let your standards loosen.
So what should you do as a single Christ-follower living in the midst of all this absurdity? Whatever you want. Remember, chastity is about fully enjoying every experience in its appropriate context. As such, you should feel no pressure, no stigma, no alienation whatsoever, because by living chastely, you are living exactly as God intended.
Single living affords you many pathways for spiritual formation that are unavailable to your married counterparts: celibacy, holy orders, more time and energy to focus on mission, a secure understanding that the fire inside of you is not for sex solely but from God to infuse your whole life with his passion.
So don’t feel controlled or condemned by your church or your circumstances. Live well, singly. Live enthusiastically, singly. Live socially, singly.
And most of all: enjoy everything fully in its appropriate context.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com