Being Single by the Grace of God

No one — no matter their marital state — is second-rate in the eyes of the Lord

The world’s oldest woman, Emma Morano, believes that long-term singleness is a significant reason she’s still alive and happy at 117 years old.

While that might make sense to some people — especially unhappily married people — many singles are far more likely to believe the Italian supercentenarian’s reasoning is, well, a little out there.

“As long as you have [singleness] it’s a gift from God, just as marriage will be God’s gift if you ever receive it.”

For millions of single people, being alone in a world ostensibly designed for couples is a lonely, frustrating, even heart-wrenching experience, though singles are more numerous today than ever before.

In 2012, Pew Research found that one in five adults ages 25 and older had never been married. Compare that to the stats in 1960, when roughly one in 10 adults within that age range had never married. In other words, approximately 42 million American adults today have never slipped on a wedding ring. Many of them deeply grieve that fact — especially, it seems, many Christian singles.

The Catholic Church places great importance on marriage, as it should, since the Bible certainly does. But when our culture erroneously deems marriage as a sign of emotional maturity and health, and even of success, singles often suffer unfair judgment. Besides this, church services and programs themselves are often designed solely with couples in mind — not singles.

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Though he was not a biblical righteous man by anyone’s standard, Oscar Wilde still summed up much of even modern society’s views on singleness: “Celibacy is the only known sexual perversion.”

Possibly as a result of these and many more stereotypes (the crazy cat lady is usually single, for example), many singles question their own worth. Worse, they question God’s faithfulness and love in their situation. How could a loving God ignore His child’s pleas for a spouse?

Examining Paul’s thoughts helps to clear some of the confusion. Unlike our love song-driven pop culture, he never once called singleness second-best. And he did call singleness a gift in the oft-quoted and much misunderstood verse, 1 Corinthians 7:7: “But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.”

How do Christians know whether they have the gift of singleness? Looking at their ring finger is key. It sounds simplistic, but it is true: If you are wearing a wedding band, you have the precious gift of marriage. If you are not, you have the equally precious gift of singleness.

“As long as you have [singleness],” Church of England cleric Vaughan Roberts wrote, “it’s a gift from God, just as marriage will be God’s gift if you ever receive it. We should receive our situation in life, whether it is singleness or marriage, as a gift of God’s grace to us.”

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Or, as Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, put it, “God will either give us what we ask for in prayer or give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything He knows.”

Keller and Roberts are both right. One marital status is not better than the other. One is merely more common. Each circumstance God gives us is a grace — even if we momentarily cannot see it as such. Each circumstance He provides is a wise gift from an infinitely wiser Father who loves us.

Though some might call singleness the gift that keeps on taking, it truly isn’t. Does that fact make singleness any easier? Intellectually, perhaps, yes, but the loneliness and longing often remain. It’s important to remember, however, that having a gift does not mean it will make life easy. No gift can make our lives perfect — and the gift of marriage does not solve all problems. Rather, marriage brings new types of problems. Neither side of the grass is greener, so to speak, and both can expect mud when it rains and flowers when the sun shines.

“Humble yourselves, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

The single person’s responsibility is to trust — especially in the difficult, lonely times. A God who willingly sacrificed His beloved Son as atonement for our ugly sin is never, ever going to skimp on any of the other gifts He so wisely and lovingly gives us. God is love, as John says in his first epistle.

Rather than give in to despair when prayers for marriage seem unheeded, as many singles sometimes do, cling to the fact that God knows more than you do about being God. That might sound humorous, but it’s still true. He is perfect at what He does, and our anxiety about any situation, whether one is married or not, is a sign of pride — the assumption that we know more than He does. Why else would Peter say in 1 Peter 5:7, “Humble yourselves, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you”? The imperative is “humble yourselves” — not cast your anxiety.

While grief over singleness is natural at times, and God understands and comforts, living in that state is not. Once you practice reminding yourself that you are the child of a King, not a second-rate single human who should feel shame that only marriage can remove, you’ll be in a better position to enjoy the state you were given by a loving Father. He has given people marriage or singleness for a reason, and both must learn to recognize how each circumstance is a blessing and call to be fruitful in either season.

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