When once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely, we never need sympathy, we can pour out all the time without being pathetic.
—Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
Reading Joy Beth Smith’s book on singleness, Party of One, I was pleasantly surprised when she slammed on the brakes after quoting this passage from Chambers that oft gets thrown at singles. “On this point, Mr. Chambers, I humbly disagree,” she writes. I didn’t even know we were allowed to disagree with Chambers!
It is easy to assume that because one is single, one also must be lonely. And that is true. But I do not think it is true because a person is single. I know plenty of married people that woke up one morning to find themselves lonelier than they ever were on their own. It would be so easy for me in moments of great longing to believe that if I were only in a relationship, this longing within me would be gone. But I know that’s a lie.
I think we get lonely because we are broken people in a broken world and loneliness is part of that bag.
I have been so fascinated by a thought from Mike Cosper’s latest, Recapturing the Wonder. He says, “We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God.” Building off a commentary of the fall from Matthew Myer Bolton’s God Against Religion, Cosper continues, “Genesis 3 isn’t fundamentally a story about broken rules but broken communion.”
How powerfully does that change our perspective of the Biblical narrative if we understand that the first sin was mankind deciding we were better off without communion—our relationship—with God? We see throughout scripture a God uncompromisingly after restored relationship with his children—his covenant with Abraham about the nation of Israel—a people of God and for God. God introducing himself to Israel on Mt. Sinai, giving them ground rules in order to have a semblance of relationship with him and a chance to pursue holiness. The ultimate coming of Jesus giving us a taste of what that unbroken communion with God is supposed to be like. Even his last supper—a picture of what he was about to do on the cross—what we now commemorate through communion—was a gathering of people around a table to relate and bear-witness with one another.
God has been after relationship with us from the beginning. He is relentless in his pursuit of that. But in order to save his people from broken communion for eternity, Jesus had to do something drastic and amazing. He had to come as a man and die in our place. And what did that mean? Complete separation from God on the cross.
Smith builds her rebuttal to the Chambers quote, “If nothing else, my singleness has taught me that you can be lonely and exhausted and in need of sympathy— even with God. Even Jesus felt this way, and in the days and moments leading to his crucifixion, we see this played out. I can think of no greater loneliness than hanging on a cross, dying for a world that despises you, and then feeling forsaken by the Father who sent you, but— glory be!— loneliness and exhaustion did not cause Jesus to crumble.”
On this side of heaven, we cannot escape loneliness. Single, married, parent, friend, child, elder—I don’t care what relationship you are a participant in, there will be moments, sometimes seasons, of loneliness. It’s part of our humanity. But how shall we respond to such deep and nagging longings?
Having an earthly relationship with Jesus does not mean I will never be lonely. (In fact, in some of my circles, I feel a loneliness because of my relationship with Jesus.)
Instead, I have come to learn that when I come to Jesus with my relational longings, he does not always meet the need relationally. When I have come to Jesus longing for human relationship, I have found that I am more in need of an invitation. Time in prayer and meditation in the word has become a sweet invitation to behold who he is and what he’s done in love. Loneliness is often an invitation into trust promise of the perfect communion to come.
The voice that rings from the Bible is the voice of the one we long to hear from, long to know, long to find our rest in.
—Mike Cosper, Recapturing the Wonder
I am so grateful for the vibrate community God has blessed me with. I am surrounded by sisters and brothers in Christ who encourage me creatively, socially, but especially spiritually. God has gifted wise older women to speak truth and provide wisdom during my dark days. He has given me a family who show me grace and forbearance and love daily.
As such, there are many people who know I would like a spouse and who would also like for me to have a spouse. And I think we all know and love some singles that would love to be bringing someone home with them this Thanksgiving, but for many of us, that’s just not going to be the case.
So here is what I have to say on behalf of those just waiting to be asked the question over dinner on Thursday, “So, are you seeing anyone?”
When the answer is “no, not at the moment,” let your answer not be, “Well, I’ll pray that you will!” (And certainly don’t let it be, “Why not?” Seriously. Just don’t.)
Don’t only pray that the singles in your life find a spouse.
Pray that with or without one, they will pursue a relationship with God. Pray that they find encouragement in the word, Spirit, and people of God. Ask that there be fruit in their personal pursuit of holiness.
Pray that they will find a community that builds them up and encourages them to thrive where God has placed them. Pray against feelings of inadequacy, incompleteness, or loneliness in the body of Christ. Ask that they be surrounded not only by other singles pursuing godliness, but also believers in many different season that they may bless and be blessed by the beautiful diversity of the Church.
Ask that in their work, they may find purpose. Pray that in the moments they are discouraged by their job or feel that this is just a pitstop to what God may have next, that they remember there identity does not come from a job title, but from Christ. Pray that they take full advantage of the mission field where God has placed them—wherever their feet end up.
Lament that our church does not always know how to include the singles in their congregation. Pray for your own church in the singles there. Pray for sensitivity on how to welcome those who are not part of a nuclear family into the fray. Pray for leadership that looks to unify a diverse body.
Express gratitude that God does not make all of our journey’s the same! Pray that the singles in your life find contentment and beauty in this as well. Pray that they would seek God’s plan for their singleness. Pray that their longings are met in Christ before they are met in a spouse. Pray that they know they are significant with or without a significant other.
We covet your prayer just as any other brother or sister in Christ would. But I ask that those prayers be for full and missional lives over simply to be married.
I am so thankful that so many of you reading this want to be part of the dialogue about marriage, singleness, and the church. I also love that your approach–and the approach I try to have–is that of all-of-us-in-this-together mentality rather than us-versus-them. Your responses are encouraging, enlightening, and just plain fun to interact with.
After my last post on marriage and singleness went live, I received a really thoughtful response asking for clarification on a statement I made and a great conversation emerged. I’d love to bring that conversation to our community at large today.
I stated and still stand behind the statement that the church (especially the evangelical side of the body) tends to idolize marriage. But how do I see this? Here are some of the thoughts that came out of this great dialogue.
Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.
We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?
I remember banking on the words of a popular purity author of the time that essentially amounted to “if you pursue a relationship with God and do everything you’re supposed to as a good Christian girl and you want a marriage hard enough, he will bring that to you.” But is that not just a slanted version of a prosperity gospel? This was based off of the Psalm saying that God will bring us the desires of our hearts. But what if he won’t give us the thing we desire, but instead redeemed desires?
So often the dialogue for young people regarding a future of marriage is that it is the only and expected option. This is what I mean by the idolizing of marriage. It is the assumption that it happens for everyone and if it does not, something is wrong.
The stats a single friend has shared—and according to a Barna study are correct—is that there are twice as many Christian young women in the world than Christian young men. If we are supposed to seek to be equally yoked, the church is going to be seeing more singles, not because the church is falling to the ways of the world, but because marriage is not the only plan God has.
In an unbroken world, yes, I think everyone would find their person, but in our broken world, God draws together so many of us with different stories to make up his body. I think we need to acknowledge this possibility and diversity of God’s plan earlier than we have been with our young people—from jr. high and high schoolers as well as those in adulthood.
Here is a question my friend asked, that I’d love for you to weigh in on: how can these two groups—married and single—not just coexist, but thrive together, and benefit one another? Please weigh in in the comments below!
One of the pleasures of seeking contentment in the season I’m in has been pursuing a romantic life over a life filled with romance.
What does that even mean? Great question!
My evenings are not filled with dates very often, but that does not mean that I need to wait to experience beautiful and exciting things—a thought-trap I think we can fall into when waiting for romantic love.
That’s a lie! Why wait to experience the beauty life has to offer until one is in a relationship?
I cannot tell you the joy I have found in visiting the local botanical gardens with just myself and a journal, in planning vacations with dear friends, in sitting in my favorite hotel lobby with a good book and cup of tea.
I live in a city that begs to be explored and while some of that exploration would be fun to do as a date night, why should I miss out when I find myself alone? Why should any of us.
Pursuing a romantic life means making time for the things that bring me pleasure. It means stopping to enjoy created beauty. It’s exploring the small things that make up a life that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Here’s what this looks like for me:
- Traveling Europe alongside close friends.
- Spending an evening in with nothing to do but drink a cup of tea and listen to the poetry of a new record.
- Taking myself on a coffee date.
- Doing nothing but read for an entire weekend.
- Bringing a journal to the local botanical gardens for a morning of prayer and reflection.
- Driving hours just to go to see my favorite band play in concert.
- Re-reading my favorite book from childhood each summer
- Wearing heels and the brightest red lipstick I can find because it makes me feel like an old Hollywood actress.
- Making last minute plans with a friend to talk about the real stuff over wine.
And it’s not just enjoying what I know I like, but pushing myself to experience the new and different, and maybe slightly uncomfortable. I have plans to take myself out to dinner. I’m starting to dream up a trip to take by myself.
Living a romantic life is participating, not in the life you dreamed of, but the pretty-damn-beautiful life you’ve been gifted. It’s taking note of the glorious and grand in the midst of the minute and mundane.
This has been my adventure and I want to hear about yours. How are you pursuing a romantic life?
For the last nine months I’ve been wrestling over the question, “If marriage never happens for me, will I be okay?”
And the answer varies day-to-day, I’ll be honest. But it struck me the other morning in a big way. I was lamenting the fact that I may never experience that kind of intimacy and then a new thought emerged. Maybe I was very wrong.
We seem forget that marriage is just the metaphor, reflecting a larger, universal reality.
Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and his Church. But somewhere along the line, marriage became the reality—the concrete realness of things.
But marriage has become less permanent and the pretty picture seems to be fading, and here’s the problem with that:
Marriage is just the picture. It was never intended to be what Christ and his bride reflect. It is instead the reflection, the lesser figuration of something greater—something blood-and-guts real.
I experience a beautiful relationship daily, if I agree to enter into the fray and the messiness. I experience the heartache of surrender—of not getting my way, of discovering I’m wrong, of giving up my own dreams for the dreams of another. I experience that other giving himself up for my sake—sometimes with intensity, sometimes with a distance I try to manifest.
I walk the tension of trying to do an unbroken thing despite my unavoidable brokenness. I know the pain of having the one who claims to love me most let me walk through more darkness than I thought possible. I experience the shame and yet overwhelming joy of sitting beside the one I’ve hurt so deeply and having him still look me in the eye and not look away—to extend mercy.
There has been an undying commitment made to me—one with no escape hatch. And despite the temptations to fulfill my needs elsewhere, I have committed to staying.
For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. As long as I live until death do we finally meet face-to-face.
I have never been married, yet I have experienced all of this.
Because marriage is only the metaphor. The real, ironically concrete, flesh-and-bone, blood-and-guts, no-way-out kind of relationship so many of us crave—within marriage or without— is that between Christ and his Church.
I don’t need a husband to experience the challenge and growth of intimate, lock-the-door-and-throw-away-the-key kind of commitment. That was given to me upon the cross just as it has been extended to you.
So we can rest assured that what hasn’t been granted us in marriage—or what we perhaps feel our marriage is lacking—is still ours. It’s ours in relationship with Christ.
When a friend who works at Baker Publishing sent me a photo of the cover of Gina Dalfonzo’s debut release last November, all I could think was, “Hallelujiah! It’s about time someone unpacked the relationship between singles and the church!”
Gina has graciously agreed to guest post this week. Her words were and encouragement to me and I know they will be for you. One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church is in stores this week. You can purchase a copy here.
When I was in my mid-20s, I started work at a place where one of my colleagues was a 40-year-old single woman. She was a very nice woman—good at her job, easy to talk to, and pleasant to work with. But—true confession time—for a long time I felt a little bit freaked out whenever she was around.
Why? It’s hard and embarrassing to explain. Frankly, I’m ashamed when I look back at my own naïve and immature frame of mind. I felt freaked out simply because she was single and 40—and there were not many voices in my life telling me that this was a good or even an okay thing.
My mother, to be sure, had always wisely told me that there was nothing wrong with staying single if I didn’t meet a man I truly wanted to marry. But, though I appreciated the principle, I had never really taken that idea seriously. Of course I was going to find a man I wanted to marry—didn’t every woman? Just because my own dating life had been pretty sparse up to that point didn’t mean he wasn’t going to walk into my life eventually. That was how it worked.
Except that for this woman, that wasn’t how it had worked. And her presence made me think, “If it happened to her, who’s to say it couldn’t happen to me?”
But, remarkably, she seemed okay with her singleness. It was all the more remarkable because she was a Christian, and Christians, naturally, were marriage- and family-focused. That had been my experience my whole life. All the Christian dating books talked about how God would bring your destined mate into your life if you just did everything right. Rarely was the idea of permanent singleness brought up . . . and when it was, it was not usually brought up in a good way.
Like when Leslie Ludy wrote in When God Writes Your Love Story about her struggles to trust God before she was married:
I pictured myself trusting God with this precious area of my life, only to end up sitting in a long, gray, tentlike dress, staring forlornly out the window and rocking my life away in a rocking chair. . . . Looking back, I laugh at such a thought. That was before I learned what a true romantic God is. If I had only known what he had planned for me . . . I never would have doubted for a minute!
In her earnest effort to persuade people that God is in charge of our love lives—a great thing—Ludy inadvertently ended up painting a terrible picture of lifelong singleness—not such a great thing. If only she, and other Christian writers on the subject, had managed to convey that God is good and life is good whether you get married or not, what a blessing it would have been to many who started losing faith as time passed and no God-ordained spouse showed up.
If there is one thing I wish I had heard from the church in my adolescence and young adulthood, it’s this: Even if you never get married, you’ll be okay. Extended singleness is not some terrible wasteland where the unworthy are left stranded and forsaken.
Oh, it can be hard, don’t get me wrong. It can be really, really hard. But even if God mysteriously turns down your petitions for marriage, even if you go for years and years wondering why it just isn’t happening for you, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love you. And it definitely doesn’t mean He’s left you alone. He’s not the kind of God who does that.
Today, I’m the one who’s in my 40s and still single. I don’t know whether my younger friends ever feel weird around me for that reason. If they do, that’s all right; I’ve been there, and I understand. But more than anything, this is the message I want to send them: Single life is just another kind of life. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it makes you lonely, and then sometimes it brings moments that are gloriously fulfilling. It may not be the life you expected, but it can still be a really good life.
It’s true that, if you never get married, you’ll struggle and you’ll suffer—because that’s what life is like. It brings struggles and suffering to us all, in all kinds of different ways. But you can have help facing those struggles when you hold on to God and His promises—His real promises.
For, contrary to what all those well-intentioned writers and teachers and thinkers told you, God never promised that everyone gets a husband or a wife. There’s no divine formula that automatically makes it happen. God is not some cosmic Oprah who proclaims, “You get a spouse! And you get a spouse! Everybody gets a spouse!”
What He does promise is that He will never leave you nor forsake you. And with Him in your life, no matter what, you will be okay.
Gina Dalfonzo is the author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church (Baker, 2017).
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
A pastor I really respect from my church made the statement that to have a pure heart meant that one was single-minded.
Coming out of a Christian culture obsessed with sexual-purity, my teenaged self had always just assumed the beatitude was connecting to saving sex for marriage. Hearing this new definition as a young adult struck a chord with me.
Single-minded. Having one single driving purpose. A lone resolve.
Had I ever been after just one thing?
I wrote previously about the realization that I have been pursuing things other than Christ. This has been the case for, well, forever. Encountering the question, “Have I ever been single-minded?” The answer was no, Definitely not.
This begged a different question, though: If I had other driving purposes competing for my attention, what were they?
There were multiple answers, but the biggest one was embarrassing to me.
I had read a book in high school that was very influential in me devoting my life to Christ. It was also very influential in cultivating some very militant thoughts toward dating, modesty, and culture that have take the ten years since reading to be set straight by scripture and patient, truth-minded people. God uses all things, I guess…
The author stated that she believed that if you truly wanted to be married in your heart-of-hearts, God would grant that in his time. She based this out of Psalm 37, where David writes, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Listening to the pastor talk about single-mindedness all those years later, I was struck by the fact that I had been following God for all the wrong reasons.
I had literally been pursuing God in hopes that he would provide someone to pursue me. And that wasn’t happening and I was growing disillusioned.
I was following Jesus because I believed that if I followed him hard enough, he would give me the desires of my heart. Like he was a magic boy-friend producing genie.
Call me double-minded with impure motives. Color me foolish. Trust me, I felt it. By the grace of God, I felt it.
In the couple years since being presented with this, I’ve since had a chance to look at Psalm 37 again. And here is the question I have:
I was looking at that verse like God was in an infomercial. “Follow me in the next ten minutes and I’ll throw in whatever you want!” What if he is not promising to give us what we desire right now if we throw in our lot with him, but something bigger.
What if he is saying that when we follow him, he will give us something for our hearts to truly desire—that he will give us desire in and of itself?
As I have prayed for single-mindedness rather than an end to my singleness, I have found that the spirit is cultivating something new in me.
Yes, I still long for a partner, but there is a new trust that if that doesn’t happen, it will be all right. There is beginning to be a desire Jesus more than a husband. Delighting in the Lord becomes more and more the desire of my heart.
I still cannot say than I am single-minded, but by God’s grace, he has begun to change my tastes. He is cultivating a purity of heart that I am not capable of doing on my own. This cultivation reveals my desire for love and acceptance, and wholeness that my double-hearted nature wants me to believe will be fulfilled with lesser things. It is through time in the word, in prayer, and in community with the body of Christ that my heart sees what it needs to focus on and what it truly desires.
So yes, I may be single. But that also may be what God is using to cultivate single-mindedness.
I remember sitting in the library in college one Valentine’s night, watching from a window as couples exited campus for fabulous and devastatingly romantic dates. (It should be noted that these dates were probably not what I would actually define as fabulous. It may have consisted of some combination of RedBox, Biggby, and/or Buffalo Wild Wings, all of which are not how I necessarily wanted to be wooed then…or now, let’s be real. I’m a snob. I’ll own it.)
Feeling like my life was neither fabulous or devastatingly romantic, I would usually spend the holiday in a cloud of self-pity.
So no wonder I hated the day!
And finally I got sick of the annual pity party. If I was significant with or without a significant other, then Valentine’s Day was just as significant for me as it was for any other person. If I wanted to feel special on this Hallmark holiday, then dagnabit, I was going to!
So here’s what I do:
I create my own little introvert heaven. I take a long, hot bath and use all the good soaps and a facemask. I put on my favorite pjs fresh from the dryer. I get a new nail polish and enjoy an unabashedly girlie movie while giving myself a manicure. Top off the night with dark chocolate and wine and I’m one happy, pampered girl.
Every year, I look forward to that time to relax, take a step back, and to just rest.
Here’s the heart of it:
No one but Christ can dictate your worth. Not a significant other, not a dozen roses, not a fancy night out. Whether you find yourself with plans today or not, you are a valued and loved image bearer. A random holiday in the middle of winter has no say in that, nor does an influx or lack-of suitors.
Be kind to yourself today, friends. Know that you are loved more deeply than you can stand. Find a way to care for yourself and be reminded of that love.
On the first day of sixth grade, I watched Amber walk into Spanish class and was more than a little surprised. Her once curly hair was now straight. She had turned in her clothes from the girls section for juniors and, well, she had filled them out.
I could not say the same for myself. I was still using a hairbrush after taking my hair out of braids, making it an unfortunate triangle shape…And I’m still not filling anything out…
She was glossy. I was frizzy.
Pretty much the story of my life.
But I think that might be the story of all of our lives.
We prefer to be seen with a gloss over our lives. We pretend in conversations, we cover it with a filter online, we avoid anything that isn’t easy, breezy, beautiful.
It’s much more comfortable and requires much less vulnerability than the alternative.
But I’m really bad at gloss. I’m clumsy and talk too much. I’m neurotic and think too much in social situations—which just makes for too many awkward stories to mention.
But I couldn’t show that. I couldn’t be seen as incompetent, unwanted, or not enough. Somewhere along the line, faking having it together became the name of the game. I was pursuing gloss over substance in the off-chance that the gloss brought fulfillment.
I’m calling it.
My life is frizz, not gloss.
In my line of work, paper makes a difference. I have co-workers who have to think consciously about the kind of paper we print things on. (Stick with me, I have a point!)
I have found that I tend to like when things are printed on uncoated paper. It feels flat, sturdy, and real. It’s just the ink and the paper and the result is beautiful.
Glossy paper feels oily and can’t be touched, lest you leave your fingerprints on it. Sometimes the sheen makes it hard to read, and, to be honest, it’s a little outdated.
And isn’t life this way?
We cannot keep up with untouchable gloss. We weren’t made that way. We can’t fake who we are, at least not for long.
We were created to live uncoated, plain lives. Taking the risk to be who we are and bloom where we are planted.
When I am insistent on being seen through gloss, I loose sight of who I am and what my purpose is. I become really great at loving myself and not caring about those around me I am called to serve.
Who you are—your frizz, your quirks, your imperfections—they were given to you so intentionally. Even your broken pieces are meant to bring greater glory to your creator. And it is out of this being that you have been equipped to thrive in the context where you currently find yourself.
That, my friend, is holy ground. There is not higher calling than to be yourself. There is also no other place that leaves us as vulnerable.
This is the risk we take, but it is also the freedom we find in living uncoated, plain, and holy lives.