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Singleness: a blessing or a curse?

By M. Brent Atkinson

At 18, I started college thinking to myself, I hope I can wait until I’m 25 to get married. Twenty-five seemed so far away. I had no idea I would still be single at 35. Much has been written of single Christians who did exploits for God — David Brainerd, Amy Carmichael and Lillian Trasher serve as great examples. But what about those of us who do not desire to remain single forever? I’ve found there is hope for the single hearted. Here are some of my experiences along the path of singleness.

The fears
The inventory of fearful thoughts plaguing the single can get pretty extensive. Will I find the right one? Did I let him/her get away? Am I getting too old to have or to raise children? Am I to remain single for life? What about a Christian dating service?

It’s easy to look at singleness as a problem and become solution oriented. When you feel like you need to fix something about yourself, you can get frustrated. The pool of eligible people seems to grow smaller every day. Every romantic book or movie simply serves to remind you of what you don’t have. It is one thing to talk about trusting God, but it gets harder with each wedding invitation from yet another close friend.

People don’t make it any easier for you. Don’t you love that friend or relative who always asks if you’ve met anyone yet? And every single at one time or another endures the jubilant matchmaker who has found the perfect mate. (Did you ever ask for their help?) Sadly, some people in the church seem to think there is something wrong if you are not married by a certain age. Even worse, some singles start to feel that way about themselves.

Did Paul really know what he was talking about when he said as a single man, “I wish that all men were as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7, NIV)? I believe he did.

The freedom
“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” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

There are specific historical and cultural reasons Paul wrote this cautionary statement to the church at Corinth, but don’t miss a principle that applies today. A single person usually has a level of freedom that a married person does not have. The question is, how are you using that freedom?

First of all, how are you waiting as your wedding date remains hidden in an uncertain future? The word wait also means to serve or wait upon, as a waiter in a restaurant waits upon his customers. He serves them. Is your singleness a period of simply waiting for a mate or waiting in service on the Lord? Singles should take advantage of their freedom to serve in a greater capacity.

I have been able to travel, take classes and minister in a much greater way than if I were married. Children are a “heritage from the Lord” and “a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3). But a father of three once told me, “After children, it takes longer to do everything!” While I look forward to marital companionship and the reward of children, I’ve learned to appreciate the freedom that singleness can bring.

Another advantage that shouldn’t be overlooked is the area of finances. The costs of health insurance, auto insurance, food, travel, clothing and sometimes taxes are all higher for marrieds than for singles. You might be tempted to think that two people means two incomes. This assumes that both spouses will work, but is that ideal for every marriage? Your season of singleness is a financial opportunity to save, invest and even bless others on a level that may not be possible later on.

The focus
ATTITUDE. Your attitude determines your altitude. Christians often quote Philippians 4:13 for encouragement. The passage takes on significant meaning for singles when read with verse 12: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. … I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Contentment does not happen by accident or good fortune. It is an attitude to be learned.

SELFLESSNESS. Believers are called to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). Singles may be tempted to ask, “How can I serve others when I don’t feel complete myself?” But it is precisely these disciplines of serving and self-denial that prepare you for a successful marriage. It behooves you to learn the practice of selflessness before walking down the aisle.

RELATIONSHIPS. Except for John the Baptist types who somehow find fulfillment as spiritual hermits, family and friends are essential for the personal contentment of most singles. Over the years, I’ve learned the immeasurable worth of relationships in combating loneliness and providing accountability, especially as it relates to sexual temptation. God said it isn’t good for man to be alone. If and until marriage comes along, you must build relationships to make sure your aloneness doesn’t become a pitfall.

SEARCHING OR BECOMING? Many marriages shipwreck because one or both partners spent more time searching for the right mate instead of becoming the right mate. You cannot overestimate the absolute necessity of character development. Continual learning, doing and spiritual growth are important not only for what you bring to marriage, but also for becoming a more fulfilled single. To be something you’ve never been you must do something you’ve never done.

SPIRITUAL INTIMACY. There is the cliché singles are always given: “Let Jesus meet your need for intimacy.” Certainly, our Lord is all-sufficient, but the fact is He created some needs that are only to be met by another human being. Until that time comes, God’s grace is sufficient to teach you the spiritual discipline of delayed gratification. When combined with a lifestyle of fasting and prayer, your delayed sexual fulfillment is a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Such fasting He rewards with spiritual intimacy that fulfills and strengthens you to run the race set before you.

The finale
I used to go to sleep praying that God would pull another rib job like He did with Adam. I would awaken to find my perfect life companion somehow materialized out of thin air. God has yet to take me up on it. But I keep on accepting each day as a gift from God.

Singleness includes some fears, to be sure, but my freedom gives me an advantage others don’t have. It helps me to remember that there are worse things than being single.

If you look at your singleness as a curse, then it will be. You should instead focus on the opportunities your singleness affords in the areas of time, ministry involvement and finances. Far from being a period of need, the focused and faithful single views singleness as a gift to be maximized for the glory of God. Is singleness a blessing or a curse? The answer depends on you.


M. Brent Atkinson is a nationally appointed home missionary doing urban church planting and ministry training in Los Angeles. He is currently the director of the Los Angeles Bible Training Center.

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