“So, when are you getting married?"
“Umm, I don’t know…”
“What do you mean, ‘I don’t know’? You have to think about these things seriously.”
“I think I’m fine with not getting married as well…”
“Don’t say that. Then who will hold your hand and take care of you when you get older?”
This is just a sample of the many conversations I’ve had about my single status. While there have been moments where they have caused hurt and serious questioning of my identity and worth, over the years I’ve learnt to accept it as a part of my culture that I can’t escape and tried to read the genuine concern between the lines.
But inevitably, all those frustrating conversations ended with a lingering fear thrust on me, that unless I did something to change the situation, I would end up alone. (What that “doing something” often involved is a cringe-worthy saga that deserves a post of its own!) Being unmarried, they seemed to say, equals being alone, lonely, somewhat skewed and incomplete.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that it’s only other people who usher in this fear of being alone. My own thoughts of the possibility of loneliness being a constant companion, not being able to share life with someone, not having someone to look after me when I’m old, not giving birth to someone who will look after me (because yes, that’s the only reason why people have children) – not having a family – well, it all has the potential of throwing up some internal angst.
But when I come to the Bible, what confronts me is something counter-cultural. And it runs counter not just to my culture, but also to everything I think I know about where to place my hopes for fulfilment, both in terms of inner identity and outer intimacy.
The New Testament is littered with verses identifying the church as a family. The gospel ushers me into a new community – the family of God. Responding to his biological family who were seeking for him, Jesus pointed at those who sat by him enthralled by his teaching: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother, sister and mother.” Mark 4: 34-35.
The early church behaved like a family, sharing their possessions, meeting needs as they arose, eating together, praying together, learning together and worshipping together. In Christ, we are adopted into God’s family (Eph. 1:5) and we are co-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17). The church is referred to as the household of God (1 Tim. 3:14) and Paul urges Timothy to consider older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older woman as mothers and younger women as sisters (1 Tim. 5:1). The numerous ‘one another’ commands relate to building deep sacrificial relationships within this family – love one another, forgive one another, bear with one another, accept one other and so on.
This new family, this new community, provides an antidote to loneliness for both the single and the married person, because the relational intimacy found here has the potential to match and even supersede the closest physical intimacy between a man and a woman. This community is the place where I can reveal myself, be vulnerable about my brokenness, confess my sins to others, find healing, be a recipient of grace. It is a place where no one is put together or perfect and all are in need of the grace so richly poured out on us.
This community is the place where I am reminded that my identity is rooted in who I am in Christ, that I am complete in Christ (Jerry Maguire has no authority here!). I forget this all the time, not just when I am reminded of or worried about my single status, but when I rush to look for affirmation in so many other places. When that sense of shame creeps in, there is always one I can turn to: Jesus, the only complete perfect human being – who lived on earth as, like me, a single person.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul actually elevates singleness higher than marriage; not because it guarantees an independent, self-serving life but because it provides for single-minded devotion and service to God. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes this about singleness and marriage:
“Singleness is the one practice of the Church that most profoundly shows that it has accepted and wishes to participate in the hope that God secured through Christ's cross, resurrection and ascension. Singleness embodies the hope that God's kingdom has come, is present and is still to come... That singleness is the first way of life for Christians does not imply that marriage and the having of children is in any way a less worthy way to be a Christian. Quite the opposite. The fact that marriage is for Christians a vocation rather than a requirement gives it a new dignity. For the Christian, marriage cannot and must not be seen as a necessary means for self-fulfilment. Christians are not called to marriage for fulfilment but for the upbuilding of that community called church... Ultimately, there is…only one good reason to get married or to stay single, namely, that this has something to do with our discipleship.”
Whatever our situation, whatever leap into maturity or character building we need to make in our discipleship, the bottom line is that our security and worth lies in our identity in Christ. The fear of loneliness is diminished by the intimacy we find in our relationships in the family of Christ. This is true for the person who is single – by choice or circumstance, for a season or for a lifetime – and also for the person who is married. This is the kind of community we need to create in our churches. I need to work towards being this kind of community for others.
“The church is composed of the single and the married. Both are called to a life of faithfulness.
All are called to be friends, defying the loneliness that threatens anyone...”
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Written from the heart. As I read Shobana’s words many strong, wise, single Christian women who have been my good friends and mentors come to mind. Adela Paul for one was my leader at BSF, a strong alto she graced many choirs and loved books, music, people and Gods word. Recently she was part of the Word study zoom study I led and was such an inspiration. She gave of her time to help others in many ways. As shared in this article, the one another verses in the Bible are for everyone, not just for the married. In Christ we are complete. Without Christ none of us are complete, married or unmarried.