Being a single Christian in your late twenties warrants a lot of comments, questions, and advice. I’ll never forget the moment a woman in my church asked me, “Do you not want to get married?” I’m fairly certain my mouth hung open for a few seconds! I had just shared with her that the Lord had called me to the mission field. And shared how I had committed to serving for two years with a campus ministry overseas. Her response wasn’t excitement for what God was doing in my life. It wasn't even curiosity about the work I’d be doing. Instead, it was an assumption about my relationship status. An assumption that was completely untrue at that!
Because of a general lack of awareness, singles in the church can feel like they are valued less than their married brothers and sisters. While usually unintentional, many often esteem marriage as greater than singleness. This leaves single believers feeling excluded, unworthy, or even ashamed.
Marriage is a good gift, but it is not the only good gift God gives to his children. And while the hurt is largely unintentional, the words we say to our single friends carry weight and can leave scars. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “the tongue has the power of life and death” (NIV). We can speak words that build up our single friends or that discourage them.
Don’t Only Talk about their Relationship Status
The question “do you not want to get married?” was offensive to me in the moment because I had just shared a major life update. I was leaving everything I knew behind to share the gospel overseas. Instead of acknowledging the joy and difficulty I was about to face, the woman I had shared with immediately inserted her belief that my decision limited my relationship status. Similar to asking couples when they will have kids, there are a lot of factors at play in singleness that you may not know about. Additionally, this question elevates your single friend’s relationship status above every other area of their life. It reveals an underlying belief that getting married is of greater importance than God’s greater purpose for your friend’s life.
Marriage is good, but it is not ultimate. God gives different gifts at different times for different reasons. We don’t get to choose! But our circumstances, relational or otherwise, do not inhibit God’s work in our lives. Instead of asking your single friends about their relationship status, ask them how God is using them in the kingdom. Or ask what work he’s been doing in their lives lately through their current circumstances.
Don’t Imply that Marriage is Promised
In addition to elevating marriage as better than singleness, it is also unhelpful to say things like, “Just keep running hard after Jesus and you’ll find someone running beside you.” Or, “When you’re fully content, that’s when God will give you a husband.” Or the even more popular, “It will happen when you least expect it.” While meant to be encouraging, these statements make singleness something we can change if we are just holy enough, content enough, or busy enough.
Marriage is not promised, and it is definitely not something we earn with good behavior. We cannot manipulate God. If/then statements such as these make marriage seem achievable by reaching peak spiritual maturity. If that were true, no non-believers would be married!
Jesus, Paul, and others of the Bible were single for their whole lives, and Scripture never states that they lacked in anything. In fact, both Jesus and Paul taught that it was an advantage to be single (Matt. 19:11–12; 1 Cor. 7:7–8). Marriage is not a measure of spiritual maturity, contentment, or sanctification. So we should not promise that when those things develop, marriage will soon follow. Instead, we should point people to be fully satisfied in God regardless of their circumstances.
We Need Each Other
As Pastor Sam Allberry says in his book 7 Myths about Singleness, “If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency.” Both marriage and singleness have use in the kingdom of God. And both provide necessary pictures of the gospel. Married believers tend to view themselves in the mentor role in their relationships with single friends—someone to help along the way or set up on dates until they finally “join the club.” While some might desire to be set up by married friends who know them well, what singles truly need is friendship without qualifications.
I recently asked my single followers on Instagram how they had felt particularly loved by their married friends. Overwhelmingly, the answer was that they loved just being included in their everyday life. Running errands, having dinner together, movies or game nights, it didn’t matter. Being included in the lives of their married friends and their families, without the expectation of their singleness needing to be “fixed” or discussed, was what was most encouraging to them. This has been my personal experience too.
It is natural to form relationships based on similarities—couples with couples, moms of similar-aged kids, people in the same neighborhood, etc. But as the people of God, our community should not be relegated to those exactly like us. We need the entire body of Christ to be whole. And while singles benefit from being around families and married couples, the benefit goes both ways. Married friends, you also need single believers in your life! And when the weight of singleness bears down, we need you to remind us that marriage is a good gift, but it's not ultimate. No matter our circumstances, let’s encourage one another that glorifying God is the only thing that truly satisfies.