I haven’t always been a Christian. I became one at 16. Before this point, I was obsessed with getting a girlfriend. After I became a Christian, this didn’t really change much at first, if I’m honest.
Looking back, most other people at church seemed to have exactly the same agenda. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting a romantic relationship. But my Christian and non-Christian friends seemed to both prioritise it about everything else. There seemed to be no real difference between a Christian and secular worldview on this.
I was speaking to a friend last week, who is in his early 20s and single. He said he is happy being single. He is getting excited because of the way God is using him, but when he says this to people they don’t believe him. They keep trying to match-make him, and he finds it frustrating.
He sometimes feels like, because he’s not in a relationship, he’s not ‘succeeding’ yet.
Another friend of mine says that people in her church are ‘concerned’ she is still single. She’s told she should “get out there and meet people”, or “get online”, or accept friend’s invitations to set her up. She was even told bluntly to move churches, so she could find some eligible bachelors.
Even though she wants a relationship one day, she says her life is rich because of church, friendships, God, and work. Yet the perception seems to be that she hasn’t made it until she finds someone. Which is far from what the Bible actually teaches about relationships.
Some of my single friends want to get married eventually. Some think they may not ever want to. My single friends have different hopes and dreams, they fall into different categories, and that’s OK.
But they all seem to have a shared experience: lots of people in Church talk and act like they’re missing out. They’re treated like they haven’t heard from God properly because they’re still single. They’re made to feel somehow second-best because they have no ring on their finger.
It did make me wonder, if Paul walked into church and sat on a pew, how would we treat him? Paul wrote much of the New Testament. He established and supported many churches. He gave up a comfortable career path to do what God asked him to. He preached and many became Christians. Yet if he were to sit in the pew today, with no wedding ring on, we might unintentionally give him the impression that he hasn’t really succeeded yet.
If we heard someone get up on stage this Sunday in our church and share a similar testimony to Paul’s, we would be inspired and amazed. Someone who was well-educated, eloquent, who converted many to Christianity and was very passionate about God – wouldn’t we impressed?
If we heard them then say they suffered hunger, shipwreck, ridicule, beatings, imprisonment, and people trying to kill them, yet still kept going and preaching despite it all, we would be in awe.
Paul experienced all of this. But let’s be honest, if Paul became part of our church, because he wouldn’t be starting his testimony by introducing the name of his wife and wonderful children, most of the congregation would be thinking: “Now, who can I set him up with?” In other words, we believe he needs to get married to succeed.
As you can tell, this post isn’t really about singleness or marriage, but about how we perceive it. In our Church, are we treating marriage as the goal, and singleness as an unwanted status? If Paul was there, would everything he did be eclipsed, or be marked, by his single status?
John the Baptist, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), Anna the prophet and widow (Luke 2:36-38) and Jesus himself, were all single. They were all seen as being part of God’s plan and were exemplified for seeking God and being used by Him. And as for Paul – Paul succeeded because he did what God wanted him to do in every situation.
Some people are single and want to get married in the future, and it’s important that we support them. But the goal of Christianity isn’t to get married.
The next time we find ourselves talking to someone about their relationship status, let’s instead ask them: “What is God doing in your life?” rather than assuming we know what they want for their life, or that they’re getting something wrong.