Singleness is not some lesser condition of life to be pitied, and shame on me if I ever write about it as if it were. The apostle Paul lifted high the single life—a life he himself embraced. Though he didn’t diminish the blessing of marriage, he also didn’t mince words when he said that to be unmarried was even better (1 Corinthians 7:28). Singleness shouldn’t be frowned upon or escaped; it is a marvelous gift to be utilized for the Kingdom of God.
Yet as we all know, many unmarried believers struggle to feel as optimistic as Paul did about their state. Sure, in some cases this “unbelief” about the goodness of singleness stems from sins of ingratitude or envy. There are those who idolize the prospect of marriage and allow bitterness to stir in their heart toward God for not giving it to them—and maybe even jealousy toward their fellow Christians who are married. However, there are a great number of us who don’t wallow in self-pity over this call (whether temporary or long term) on our lives. Though the single life isn’t without its difficulties, we trust that God will comfort and provide for us . . . just as he did for single men like Paul.
However, life gets rough for singles when the Church forgets she is the primary means by which God comforts and provides for his unmarried children. Content unmarried Christians know they must deal with an element of loneliness in their lives. They understand that some level of solitary time is an inevitable facet of being an unmarried believer and that solitude can be a good thing if we use it to draw near to Christ. But utter aloneness—an almost total lack of meaningful Christian friendship—is not supposed to be part of the package. Yet this is what many are currently experiencing. And I am not speaking hypothetically; I personally know multiple single believers who suffer day in and day out in almost utter isolation. They go to church and community group. They hope that these regularly scheduled events will be places they can find people to develop outside-of-the-church-walls friendship with. But no one ever seems interested in that kind of thing. It’s like people just want to get in, say their hellos, do their worshipping/bible study, and then get out and on with their lives. Week after week, my single friends’ despair grows more intense. Hopelessness starts to set in. The terrifying temptation to leave the Body of Christ and return to a world where they can at least have company and friends becomes stronger.
The greatest enemy of single Christians isn’t sexual immorality or some other sinful vice. The greatest enemy of single Christians is lack of fellowship and meaningful friendship in the local church.
I want to be careful not to make blanket statements like, “the American Church does a really bad job of ministering to singles” or “American believers are family-unit obsessed people who don’t prioritize Christian fellowship.” There are plenty of faith communities filled with families who open wide their lives and homes to the singles in their midst. I, for example, have vibrant, beyond-the-church-walls friendships with many married people in my church. Nearly every weekend without fail, a couple or family asks me to go out to dinner with them or to come over and just hang out. Just two weekends ago, I ran into a married brother in public, and he interrupted his schedule to go out to lunch with me. The Monday-Thursday schedules of my married friends are obviously much busier than mine. They can’t always get together outside of midweek community group. However, at least three to four of them text with me on a daily basis throughout the week. That may not sound meaningful to some of you, but it is to me. When someone thinks to send funny memes or texts just to chitchat, it tells me that even in the midst of their busyness, they haven’t forgotten me. It makes me feel like I am part of their lives.
But the fact of the matter is that many churches don’t function like mine. I have single friends throughout the country who struggle to get anyone in their faith community to communicate or spend time with them outside of scheduled church events—and it isn’t for lack of trying! My friends aren’t sitting off in a dark corner of self-pity waiting for someone to reach out to them; they are taking initiative! They text, call, and in times of prayer requests, even express their need for friends and fellowship. But their efforts often bear little fruit. A couple or family will meet them for lunch or have them over for dinner . . . and then nothing for three months.
One might say, “Well that’s what other single people are for, Matt. Singles are there to keep each other company!” Yeah . . . no. First of all, once you hit about 30 years old, singles are a scarcity. Secondly, and most importantly, Christian fellowship shouldn’t be divided into categories like age or life stage. The old should be friends with the young, and the young should be friends with the old. The married should be friends with the single, and the single should be friends with the married. “We regard no one according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16) . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus ( Galatians 3:28).”
Now I don’t think most married believers are like, “Ughhhh we really don’t want to hang out with Joe/Jane!” I’m sure they have somewhat of a desire to cultivate a friendship with the lonely singles in their midst. It’s just that suburban-life shenanigans consume all their time and energy. Families are busy people. Really, really busy people. And you know, I think they feel the pangs of isolation as well. Sure, having a spouse takes the sting out of loneliness. Spouse’d up people generally don’t have to eat dinner alone or spend prolonged periods of time by themselves. Nevertheless, their souls need more than what their marriage can give them.
Singles are not the only ones who suffer when apathy or excessive busyness strangles Christian fellowship—the entire body suffers.
It is a sad but very present reality that many American Christians don’t value fellowship and community. They prioritize all sorts of things over “doing life” with the believers God has placed in their midst . . . and I believe this is because they’ve lost sight of who they are and what the Church actually is. In their minds, “church” has slowly—and probably unintentionally—been reduced to a mere slice of their busy, jam-packed lives. Friends, if we are ever going to “do life” with one another in a way that actually gives us life, we’ve got to begin viewing ourselves rightly. We are not individual participants in some club or mere attendees to weekly religious services. When we were united to Jesus, we were united to one another as well. Later this week, in part 2 of this blog post, I’m going to discuss two pictures the New Testament uses to describe the Church—the Body of Christ and the family of God—and how these pictures should radically impact how we live our lives with one another.