As a long-distance runner, I often joke about how great I am at “getting through stuff.” I love the idea that every run is glorious and fun, but when there are hills ahead or the weather app says it’s 90° or I’m a little sleep-deprived—I’m just going to put my head down, lift my knees higher, and get through the miles ahead. The same goes for sitting in traffic or grinding through a long paper in college—I am, humbly so, great at getting through stuff.
It seems like that is how a lot of the world—inside and outside of the church—views singleness. It has met me with sympathetic eyes or questions about my dream future husband. Will they be tall? A corporate American or a missionary? Someone you hope you meet soon, of course.
Our church leaders are wed. Our friends are wed or dating and picking out rings—some are on baby number two or three. I’ve spent a lot of my twenties at weddings, holding my breath. Not because of a speak now or forever hold your peace scenario, but inevitably, at some point in the night, a dear friend or mom or fellow bridesmaid would strut up to me, pointing out the one super cute guy who loves Jesus and is also single! I’d politely smile and nod, really selling the fact that I’m considering this individual as a future boyfriend and spouse, when he’s just waiting to hit the dance floor in complete oblivion that he’s being pitched to the fellow single person in the room.
Like running up a dormant Hawaiian volcano in July at 3 p.m., singleness has been viewed as the hilliest and hottest marathon: something to endure, something to get through on the way to marriage.
God does not intend for it to be this way. Jesus shows two paths, two ways to live—single or married—and gives instructions on both. In Scripture, we see both singleness and marriage as honorable ways we can live. Paul shares that in some scenarios it is preferable to be single over wed (1 Corinthians 7:7), and later gives instructions for a godly marriage (Ephesians 5:25).
On the off chance, perhaps, you know Paul was single and you remain dissatisfied with your singleness, keep trekking.
I boast a long single track record, and as I’ve reflected over the years spent with just Jesus—in college, living in Bulgaria, buying a home, writing a book, attending family gatherings, coping with loss—I truly haven’t known if I liked being single. Did I feel like this season was chosen or default? Part of me believed my singleness as intentional and purposeful, but in the same breath, it’s not like men were banging down my door asking me out, so was it secretly just the only option I had?
Would I become like my peers and throw in the towel if, or when, I began dating—posting only about the other person, consumed by love?
And the big question—did I feel like singleness was a season or a lifetime? If I said season, then it had an end date, and I’d be thrust into daydreaming about the future. But if I said lifetime, then I’m implying I don’t think I’d marry, and I certainly didn’t have a strong stance there in my twenties.
So I did the only logical thing: I told everyone I fully adored being single. I couldn’t stand the shimmers of pity, the idea that godly single people are in waiting or limbo for something, when Jesus said—in seeking him—we have all (Matthew 6:33). So I sold my love for singleness to others—I freaking loved it. And I told everyone I knew that. I said it so much, I just didn’t know if my heart always believed it.
In college or in fleeting moments, my most fervent prayer was escaping said singleness. Yet, in longer seasons and the majority of my time—praise God—it has been true, genuine contentment, as it’s a glorious life with the Lord pursuing degrees, traveling, wholeheartedly showing up for friends—regardless of relationship status. For the last decade of my life, I have been following Jesus, unmarried, and surrounded by love. While I do not know if we are single for a season or life or what Instagram-creatures we could become in the future, I do know that you always have an option—you always have a choice of your relationship status—and the choice of patience is far better than the choice of dating the incorrect person, lowering godly standards, or rushing into something unwise or unhealthy.
As I chose patience and presence—living in every moment God gives me—the Lord reminded me that marriage doesn’t give one new access to Jesus or new books of Scripture reserved for the wed, but a new way to see and experience Jesus, which comes with, and in, every season of life. If my friend is learning patience and forgiveness through their spouse, and the Lord also wants to teach me patience and forgiveness, he will do so through the friend I’m mentoring or my mom or a coworker. Joy in singleness, or any season you might be unsure about, isn’t found by diminishing the other options or pretending not to care (or telling everyone how much you love it when you’re unsure). Joy and contentment is found, and will always be found, in the Lord. In putting and exalting God to the proper place in our hearts, marriage will be put at the proper place in our lives.
Our all-knowing and all-powerful God is aware of our desires and deeply cares for us.
If we are single, it is not by chance or because we have been forgotten. Whether we have called out expressing our joy or discontentment to God like Habakkuk, God knows every desire, every secret want, and every hair on our heads (Luke 12:7). We are intimately known and cared for by him (Romans 8:26). And as a loving and freeing reminder—God is not like us. He doesn’t show up late to a party or forget our birthdays; God’s will is not fragile, nor is he unprepared. His character is good and trustworthy. He sees beyond what we see and will fight for us (Psalm 138:8), reminding us that singleness is not being forgotten, yet an opportunity to be continually forged into the image of God.
Marriage isn’t the matter God seems most concerned about.
Keyword here is ‘seems’—I’m not one for hot takes, and God himself technically hasn’t given me his priority order of concerns, but I feel confident the order begins with our salvation and our heart posture towards him. While marriage is a godly covenant, our human selves can still take something created by God out of its intended context and idolize something God never intended us to treat as our lord. In my ESV Bible, Romans 12:9-21 is titled Marks of the True Christian, yet it never mentions marriage. The mark of a true Christian isn’t a relationship status, rather a godly pursuit of people, a Christlike heart, and a life spent with the Lord. When talking about marriage, Scripture doesn’t say “then all their problems were solved and they lived happily ever after,” but rather, two become one in marriage (Matthew 19:6). A beautiful fact.
We can live out love as God has asked.
Love is about loving people in the name of Jesus and it spans everyone—our neighbors, our friends, our family, our enemies, and our relationships. Love, though, is not exclusively an earthly marital love. Romans 12:9-21 guides us on how to live and love:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”Romans 12:9-21
Rejoice with your married friends. Rejoice with your single friends. Mourn and weep with the mourning. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope. Overcome evil with good. This is what God has commanded all of us. In accepting Christ, we all have full access to God now, to live as he has asked us to. There’s nothing we are waiting on to fully live our beautiful life with him.
I’ve switched my prayers for contentment or marriage or peace or a mere answer on the “Will I get married?” question over the years. And my prayer now—I guess today, really—is a picture of the future. It’s a vision that if, or when, I get engaged one day, when I am at the cusp of marriage—an entity I’ve been envious of, annoyed by, longed for, and fine without for a decade—and a friend comes up to me, eyes glistening, and asks if I’m excited. Well, my prayer is I would be overjoyed—fully and completely overjoyed. Not because I got what I wanted, but because I learned it wasn’t the end goal, because I allowed Jesus to dethrone all idols in my mind, and I’m continuing in the great love story that I’ve already been walking in with the Lord.
My prayer is that I’m so excited because I didn’t waste a minute of my singleness longing for a day and get to continue—in one fluid motion—serving, loving, and running with Jesus alongside someone I love. What a worthy life it is—a life spent serving, loving, and running with Jesus—whether it’s with a spouse, a friend, a community, or a family.
A Practical Assumption to Carry
For the married folks,
Assume we do not know how a single person feels. In the same way that our marriage or relationship likely looks different than parents and friends and the couple who mentored you, singleness does not look the same. Some of our friends may genuinely, whole-heartedly love this season of life. Some may think it’s more than a season of life and are committed to a celibate life with the Lord. Some may hate being single, constantly feeling a pit in their stomach when two people hold hands and spend their prayer life on a future spouse and marriage. Having a listening ear is a sacred gift we can give our friends.
For the single folks,
Assume positive intent from the people around us. When we have something we like—for instance, I’d recommend Brooks® running shoes to anyone thinking about the simplest jog—we often love to share that with others. While it may seem like married or dating friends are trying to set you up or change your relationship status, oftentimes they just love the season of life they’re in and want their friends to experience it too. When the church emphasizes marriage, it might just be because most of the congregation is married, not because you have to marry. Bitterness has an easy way of sticking to our bones, clogging our arteries, and building a wall around our hearts. Having an unassuming and gentle heart is a sacred gift to give our friends.
A Prayer to Pray
Prayer for Spiritual Strength
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”Ephesians 3:14-20
Erica spends her days as a consultant and her evenings as a doctoral student, yet her favorite roles are being a daughter, sister, and friend. You can find her yelling, “Roll Tide!” at a television, enjoying a long run, or writing—probably wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. An alumna of the Fulbright Program, she loves traveling and seeing the consistency of God and his love for people throughout the world. YET: The Promise in Habakkuk for Those in Transition is her first published devotional.