On December 2nd of 2018, I entered into the third decade of my life. However, there was something very special about that birthday—it was my first as a married man. After nearly thirty years of singleness, the Lord has graciously blessed me by granting my heart’s desire: a wife. While it is difficult to describe the joy I feel in my new role as a husband, I find it more challenging to articulate the fullness of my reflections on my time as a single man.
For many men and women, singleness is a significant trial. In Genesis, man’s singleness was the first aspect of creation that God declared, “not good.” This truth applies to women, too, for the woman was created to be a suitable helper and compliment to the man. In His sovereign wisdom, God created the institution of marriage to reflect Christ and the church (Eph 5:32), blessed the majority of men and women with the gift—or desire for—marriage (1 Cor 7:7), and presided over the first marriage (Gen 2:22-25). In addition, God designed the marriage union to be the means through which the earth is populated (Gen 1:28). Many of God’s sweetest blessings flow forth from marriage, and as a result it is understandable why a good desire for marriage can be a real trial for those who are single and seeking marriage.
However, singleness is often overlooked or belittled as a trial of life. There is a great deal of bad counsel in the world available to young men and women who are struggling with singleness. Unfortunately, poor counsel is also propagated within the church, leaving the recipients struggling to honor mediocre, non-biblical advice because it is offered in the name of the Lord. Here are some common examples of the counsel that well-intentioned believers offer to a person who desires marriage.
- “You have to learn to be content in your singleness” – This is probably the most frequent offender of bad Christian counsel concerning singleness. Scripture tells us that God’s response to singleness was to create the institution of marriage, not lovingly instruct him to be content in his singleness. Additionally, Paul’s counsel for those who are burning with passion is not contentment, but marriage (1 Cor 7:9). Rather, a person is to learn to be content in Christ while single. A trial cannot provide comfort or lasting contentment, only Christ can.
- “You just have to settle for someone!” – I have often heard this expression used as a polite way to encourage a person that they need to “lower their standards” and choose someone who is more “in their own league”, or perhaps even a “league” below. Now, it is true that a major reason for the singleness of many men and women is their unrealistic expectations concerning a potential suitor. For example, “I will marry a person this tall, with this eye color, etc.” In this case, counseling is helpful for revealing wrong thinking that may prolong singleness. But Christians must avoid counseling others in a way that creates a system in which His children are judged according to the standards of men. Paul says that individuals who promote comparison are without understanding (2 Cor 10:12). Everyone that trusts in Christ Jesus is a child of God through faith (Gal 3:27) and we are not to engage in assessing another believer’s worth. This does not mean that everyone will be equally desirable as a candidate, but we shouldn’t be “setting the bar” for someone else when it comes to romantic relationships. No spouse wants to be a lower-tier option—one who is “settled for”—as if they weren’t highly valued from the start.
- “Physical attraction is not important—internal beauty is the only thing that matters” – First, I would affirm both from Scripture (Prov 31:30) and personal experience that an internal fear of the Lord is without question the singular most crucial element in a partner. Outer attraction without inner beauty is like a whitewashed tomb filled with the bones of dead men (cf. Prov 11:22). The believer who marries solely for the external qualities of another will find that cistern to be broken and empty—especially as those qualities diminish with time. Nevertheless, God does not cast aside attraction when it comes to romantic relationships. In fact, God dedicated a whole book of the Bible to marriage, and contained within it are many verses that speak of physical attraction. Here are two particularly profound verses: “Like a lily among the thorns, so is my darling among the maidens. Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men” (Song 2:2-3). While attraction is not the most important aspect of choosing a mate, and many marriages since the creation of the world have been successful without it, it is biblically misguided to convince others that it does not exist at all. Contrary to some Christian counsel, it is not sinful to desire a physically attractive spouse as long as physical attraction remains a lesser priority than godliness.
With these things in mind, here are two suggestions that I believe will yield greater fruit when interacting with those who are struggling with singleness.
First, remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:8-9). Except for scenarios that are clearly against the revealed will of God, be cautious when you give counsel to someone without knowing all the information (Prov 20:25). If you assume you know the best counsel for someone before you know all the facts, you might counsel them in a way that leads them into harm, or into sinning against their conscience. The Lord knows what is best for His children—honor the opportunity to partner with Him in counseling by being intentional, asking questions, and listening instead of giving ill-informed advice.
Second, we must take care to not speak to others hastily (Prov 29:20) or present personal opinion as strong biblical counsel. We all, at times, have given offhanded, hasty advice or comments. In these cases, our counsel may have come across as flippant, insincere, and caused pain instead of encouragement. As followers of Christ, we are accountable for the words we say. We should not speak hastily, but with self-control and wisdom, so that we may encourage others and give grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29). The best interactions with others, even in passing, are done prayerfully and not hastily.
I would like to close by sharing some of the important lessons the Lord taught me during my trial of singleness.
- You can be effective for the kingdom without ever marrying. Christ is our perfect example. He perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father without ever being married. He also has the most children (spiritual offspring) of anyone who was ever human (Isa 53:10). Our hope is in Christ, not in marriage, and we are called to be fruitful regardless of our marital status.
- You can trust in God to be faithful to His promises. Everything we do depends on the faithfulness of God—our plans for next month, the beating of our heart, and the continuing of the fixed order. Even our salvation is dependent upon God’s faithfulness to His promise that He will save those who have faith in Christ alone! Scripture is filled with promises that are given to encourage and sustain His people—He works all things together for good (Rom 8:28), He gives grace in trials (2 Cor 12:9; 1 Cor 10:13), and He blesses those who remain steadfast in trials (James 1:12). Look to God and His promises more than you look to your circumstances in a broken world.
- Pray! – God commands us to pray, and He is faithful to answer our prayers according to His perfect will and purposes (Matt 6:7-13; John 15:7-8; 1 John 5:14). So pray about the desire in your heart for marriage and for your future spouse. I have journals filled with prayers for my future wife—many of them years before I even met Emily. If you are counseling and suffering alongside someone who is single, make your primary ministry to them one of prayer (Eph 6:18). It is a great temptation to counsel more than you pray.
- Cultivate your personal spiritual disciplines. A trial should never be an excuse to be stagnant in deepening your love and devotion to Christ (Prov 13:4; 26:13). That is a mark of spiritual immaturity. Followers of Christ are commanded to cultivate their basic spiritual disciplines—prayer, Bible reading, service, purity, etc.—regardless of marital status. This will bless your relationship with God, fill you with joy, and be a blessing to your future spouse should the Lord bring someone into your life.
- Understand the biblical expectations of your gender role (Gen 3:16-20; Col 3:18-19). This can be challenging in a culture that actively seeks to reverse biblical expectations concerning the roles of men and women. Understanding and fulfilling the responsibilities that are required of you in Scripture before you start dating (as much as is appropriate) and while you are dating or engaged, will soften your transition into marriage. For example, if a man desires to be married but does not have a job that will provide for a family, he must make progress in this area before he can pursue marriage in a way that pleases God.
- It is not possible to will yourself to be married. If anyone could have willed himself to be married, it would have been me. It may sound cliché, but it is not in God’s providential plan for you to be married until you are standing across from your spouse on the wedding day and say, “I do”—then, and only then, are you married. Even the months of dating or engagement should not become an assurance of your delivery from the trial of singleness. Psalm 46:10 reads, “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This is not a call to personal peace as much as it is a call to stop resisting God’s sovereign activity in your life. Nothing happens apart from His will. If you can resist the urge to take control of your life by attempting to reach your desired destination in your own wisdom instead of His, you will spare yourself the destruction that undoubtedly results from your finite plans.
Of all the trials I have gone through in my life, my trial of singleness was definitely the hardest. However, as I write this article, I am blessed by God to be one month into my marriage with Emily. We have enjoyed a beautiful beginning to our marriage, and we look forward to walking through new trials the Lord has ordained for our growth together.
If you are single and desire to be married, I would encourage you to persevere in your trial. James 5:11 reads, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” I do not know the Lord’s sovereign plan for your life, but I can promise you that He has provided you sufficient means to endure your singleness, whether you marry or not, and to be joyfully fruitful in His service as He continues to reveal His perfect purposes for your life.