I’d always thought that I would be married by 22.
So naturally, as I approached my 23rd birthday a few months ago, I thought that it was going to hit me, hard. I despised having to come to terms with not being able to be on track with whatever plan I’ve devised for myself, for, after all, don’t we like to be in control of our own lives?
Many of my friends were either getting married or engaged, some even having kids, and here I was, still, all by myself. Third-wheeling was an everyday reality, and at my lowest (just kidding!) I was eighth-wheeling. What had been all the more unhelpful was, the question as to when my turn was always surfaced, and matchmaking was often an add-on. Though perhaps well-intentioned, they would trigger that deep longing that I would have to, time and time again, shove away.
and they lived happily ever after
The problem with our culture is that we tend to see marriage as an end to itself. In parenting, marriage is often seen as an end goal, as parental duties seem to cease once they marry off their children. Perhaps this is most felt in more conservative Asian families, where even adult children would remain to live at home until they marry. On the other hand, for the unmarried, there is an expectation to marry within a certain age bracket. Being single beyond that bracket is often responded with concerned questions. A person’s singleness is usually understood to mean that one is either unattractive, too difficult of a person, or too picky. For this reason, singles often feel out of place, lonely, and incomplete.
In a culture that diminishes singleness, romantic relationships are ultimately worshipped. And the epitome of all this is reflected in how we perceive weddings. With the ever-growing wedding industry that is so prevalent today (especially in Indonesia), we are constantly fed with images of extravagant wedding celebrations, as though this was what must be pursued, as though this was the ultimate key to happiness. Even as Christians, today we have allowed culture to write our narratives. Marriage is seen as a means to simply be happy, to procreate, carry on the family name, or for wealth succession.
marriage narrated differently
Perhaps if only we knew what marriage was to point to, we would be more patient in waiting. That ultimately, this earthly union is to point us to the heavenly reality of Christ and His Bride, that is, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). When we understand the grander scale of this Great Story, then it is imperative that Christian marriages be different. It is not necessarily the “happily ever after” that we are after, but rather, one where God is most glorified.
…ultimately, this earthly union is to point us to the heavenly reality of Christ and His Bride, that is, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32).
when i am not content
Though outwardly I’ve always tried my best to portray being fulfilled in Christ even amidst my singleness, I must be honest in saying that the longings of a partner lingered a lot of the time. There had been too many times where I would envy my friends who seem to be set in their relationships, especially when they get to do ministry together. Deep down, I would silently pray, Lord I want that.
My discontentment would also lead to a lack of sympathy towards those who are walking through a different season than myself. I would be quick to judge other people’s relationships, and in my heart, I would jump to conclusions on how they were to treat one another. There honestly remains very little grace in my heart for them.
Multiple times, when I am aware of these things as they surface in my heart, I would beat myself up about it. I would tell myself to be secure in whatever season I have been placed in. To be content in my singleness and testify of the fulfillment I can find in Christ. I would tell myself not to be so judgmental of others, and instead, learn to be more gracious. But even then, the reality is, it definitely does not come easy. And so at times like these, I need reminding. We need to remind ourselves of the purpose of it all. And for that we need to run to Scripture.
a resolve for the mind
Though perhaps too often-quoted, the truth revealed in 1 Corinthians 7:7, 32-34 still rings true. As we come to understand it, the passage helps us rationalize our (and other people’s) singleness. And for sure, it has helped me mentally process my own experience in that matter. When we are discontent, we need to remind ourselves that even singleness is a gift (as marriage is, too), where the Lord had bestowed upon us a priceless opportunity to serve Him freely, by having more mobility, and without having our allegiances divided between Him and a partner.
When we are discontent, we need to remind ourselves that even singleness is a gift, as marriage is, too.
For me this has been most evident in the fact that I get to go to seminary, and need not worry about how it would affect anyone else. Most of my friends at Bible school are married, and from our conversations I get to see how their partners have sacrificed so much for them to be there, be it through finances, raising kids, or extra chores. But in my singleness, I do not have family obligations as they do, and so I get to invest my time in other ministries, as well as in my own family and friends.
the restlessness of the heart
But even when my mind is made up, there remains times where my heart does not align with what I’ve come to see as benefits of my singleness. (But is this not the case, always? Where the heart and the mind seem to be in conflict.)My mind is convinced, but my heart remains restless.
Yet in my efforts to beat my heart to submission, and tell it to curb its passions and desires, there is one thing that has kept me harbored in between the tension: oh how the Lord is kinder to me than I am to myself! For even grace is sufficient here. And grace comes in the shape of the Gospel.
how the Gospel sees my singleness
Hence it is imperative that we learn to see how the Gospel permeates even into this aspect of our lives, that is, our singleness. As Christians we must acknowledge that the Gospel is not merely a story to be told, but a life to be lived. Ultimately, we are to see our singleness, not simply as an opportunity to spread the Gospel, but also to experience the Gospel’s work. In our singleness, we are not simply being given more free time to do ministry (as we tend to associate it with), but to experience the liberation of the Gospel in a most unique way.
…how we are to see our singleness, is not simply as an opportunity to spread the Gospel, but also to experience the Gospel’s work.
For firstly, the Gospel teaches us that in Christ we have become children of God. I particularly love how in between the exhortations to the unmarried, Paul goes to speak to those who are married in 1 Corinthians 7:29. For there he iterates how even those who have spouses ought to act as though they do not––not in a sense that they are to be unfaithful and unlawful in their marriage, but to know that in Christian marriage, you are first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ before you are lovers. And what better way is there to learn to love as brothers and sisters in the faith if not in our singleness?
Secondly, to know that when Jesus had ascended to heaven, He did not leave us alone, but sent us the Comforter amidst the troubles of the world (John 14:26-27). For we cannot deny, that there will be times in our singleness when we do feel the weight of the loneliness sinking in. And personally for myself, I’ve found a certain sweetness in seasons of loneliness, for they are sure reminders of my need for Him who comforts. For not only is our allegiance undivided, but singleness proves to be a beautiful time where our love, too, remains undivided.
…singleness proves to be a beautiful time where our love, too, remains undivided.
Thirdly, the Gospel reveals to us that Christ will come again a second time, and that is the hope of eternity that we as Christians hold onto. We await that time when all will be made right, where vindication will come, and when finally, we shall see our Savior, face to face. Oh, how we are to long for that Great Wedding Day! (Revelation 19:7).
singleness in light of eternity
If Christian marriages ought to look different than other marriages, so should Christian singleness. But as we compare our lives to eternity (for such is the Christian hope), our tendency is to talk about contentment as though it comes easy. And in so doing, we tend to diminish the struggles that singles face presently and become uncompassionate and insensitive. But perhaps we should not discount such challenges, either. I hope that our Christian communities are wrestling enough about this, so that we can serve and love our single brothers and sisters better.
If Christian marriages ought to look different than other marriages, so should Christian singleness.
My prayer is that if you’re single and you’re reading this today, you’ll approach friendships better. Not looking at the new girl at church and thinking, maybe she’s the one, or at the worship leader singing up front, perhaps he can lead me. But rather, to always remind ourselves, that they are first and foremost our brothers and sisters, rather than potential partners. So may we love them better in that way, instead of seeking intimacy too quickly, even within the friendship.
Regardless, during those times when the loneliness (or even urge) does sink in, my hope is that you would seek the Comforter, for the Lord indeed is near. Oh, how He never forsakes His children who seek Him with all their hearts. Although such longings may lead to present discontentment, may it instead beckon us to look towards a future hope.
And as we look to our singleness in light of eternity, may we learn to live in this season of waiting better. There is perhaps something we can learn from our hearts’ pursuit of a “happily ever after,” that is, that we ought to be longing for that Great Wedding Day. So just as we, as the Church, await the time where our Groom comes, may we not condemn those who desire marriage, but instead, point, even this (seemingly shallow) longing of theirs to eternity.
…perhaps something we can learn from our hearts’ pursuit of a “happily ever after,” that is, that we ought to be longing for that Great Wedding Day.