I am an anomaly. I am well aware that my life is very much out-of-the-box of what is expected by society. I am a male, Christian, never-been-married, senior adult. I am not ashamed of my state in life, nor am I worried about it. Others seem to have a more difficult time with my marital status than I do. I am continually asked: “Why did you never get married; didn’t you want to?” And, even, “Oh, (raised eyebrow) are you …?” My answers have always been the same. “No, I absolutely wanted to get married; it just didn’t happen.” “No, I’m not.” I’ve even been told, “You’ll be a lot happier if you get married.” I’m not unhappy. Nevertheless, I’ve gone through the various cycles of relational life and have come to a place where I can say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil. 4:11b ESV). That is truly where I am emotionally and spiritually. I am happy. I am content.
I’m not an expert on the Christian single life, but I’ve experienced a lot over the years with regard to being single. I’ve had some amazing opportunities, but I’ve also felt the uncomfortableness that comes more with how others perceive me, and react around me, than with my personal status. In many instances it has felt as if my Christian friends would be more accepting of my status if I had been married multiple times than they are with my status as a never-married single. I’m not judging those who have had multiple marriages, for whatever reason. This is an observation from the perspective of a never-married, Christian single. My well-meaning Christian friends have unknowingly pressured me to be something that they perceive as “normal” so that I can be free from my – dare I say it – “abnormality.”
Before I talk to the singles, let me entreat the Church to not look at singles as oddities, nor as a group that has to be somehow tolerated, nor as someone to serve as a filler when you have an extra seat at a table at a church dinner. As singles get older, there are less opportunities for them to be a part of the church community. It’s not intentional, but it happens. In their younger years they are active in youth and young adult groups; but, then, when the single reaches mid-thirties, the fellowship pool changes significantly. Small-groups are often touted as being specific for needs and or interests of the church community: parenting, dating (mostly for young adults), blended families, recovery (substance, divorce, grief). To be fair, there are special interest groups (athletics, music, cooking, Bible-study) which could have an appeal to singles. However, the never-married single often feels odd in many of these settings because the conversations seem to inevitably center on family topics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against any of these groups. They serve incredibly important purposes in the lives of those who connect through them. It’s just that the single often feels left out and it gets more and more difficult for singles to connect as they get older. Their options to connect with other singles (formerly-married or never-married) too often become more like awkward lonely hearts clubs. Many leave the Church entirely, but, as they get older, the never-marrieds will most often return to church. However, they will be less likely to participate in many of the church activities unless they feel welcomed, not because they are single, but because they have value. The dilemma becomes what to do with this decidedly small handful of people who need the love of the church community as much as anyone else.
Let me entreat the church to not look at singles as oddities, nor as a group that has to be somehow tolerated
The never-married (or formerly-married) singles themselves share a lot of the responsibility for creating these issues of disconnect. They are a small part of the church community and most churches don’t have the resources or personnel to provide for their needs alone. Too often the singles add to the disconnection by their own attitude and negativity. Admit it, we’ve all (my single-self included) met singles who were so pitiable that we walked away thinking, “Well, I know why he/she is not married.” That’s an unfair judgment on our part that’s exacerbated by the attitudes that too many of the singles project. Singles, don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Find your identity in Jesus Christ. Recognize that God is in control. Look for how you can be of use in the Kingdom of God given your current status. Embrace the words of Paul and find contentment, not bitterness, in who you are in Christ.
Look for how you can be of use in the Kingdom of God given your current status.
In the late 80s, singer Bobby McFerrin released a Reggae-style song entitled, “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” I can still hear McFerrin’s lyrical voice, “Don’t worry, be happy.” It was a peppy, popular song and won a Grammy award for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Isn’t that what Paul is telling us, “Don’t worry, be content (happy)”? Find your joy in Christ. There are others who need to hear your story of faith, resilience, and trust when life doesn’t go the way you or society thinks it should. Find your gifts and use those for the glory of God and in service to the Kingdom. We, the Church, need to hear you. When you find your contentment, your happiness, through your faith in Christ, everything else will fall into place as it should. As a never-married single, I understand where you are. I know what it’s like and I can tell you, “Don’t worry, be happy — in Christ — in whatever situation you find yourself.”