In my single years, I went to a church that had a lot of singles. The pastoral staff spoke purposefully to us from the pulpit. We constantly heard that we were not second-rate church members, that we were deeply valued and needed, that our gifts, our time, ourselves were a vital part of this church. It was a good place to be single.
But on other Sunday mornings, I heard a different message, usually when there was a sermon on marriage. I’m sure you’ve heard it too. It’s a common refrain in the Body of Christ. After the aside to singles about how being single didn’t discount us from fully participating in the body of Christ, we heard how sanctifying marriage was. Specifically, that there is nothing quite like marriage for sanctification. With that one statement, all the inclusive rhetoric toward singles was negated. Because if there’s nothing quite like marriage for sanctification and godliness, then by being single, I am lacking the necessary prerequisites to be truly holy.
This didn’t add up with the other teaching of the church. So I knew the pastors’ ad nauseam statements about the value of singles within the church were false, or marriage does not have a unique ability to sanctify. I chose to believe the latter.
Now understand that I am not saying that marriage is not sanctifying. Not for a moment. Marriage can be a tool in the hand of God to show us our selfishness, our fears, and our sin. But it is only a tool. It is God who transforms us, whatever our life situation, into a clearer image of Himself. Singleness can also be a tool in the hand of God to show us our selfishness, our fears, our sin. And since it’s the same God wielding the tool, it has the same potential for sanctification as marriage.
Over the years of being single, this unstated message wore down on me. It was demoralizing to hear a statement on repeat which had as it’s logical underpinning that I simply didn’t have the same potential in my walk with the Lord as my married friends. Especially, as I got older and more people I knew – many of whom were selfish and immature – were pairing up and getting married. If it was true that there was nothing quite like marriage for sanctification, then I wasn’t just lonely and bored, I was lonely, bored, and unholy.
I didn’t speak up on this when I was single because there was always a small voice in my head that said, “But you don’t really know that. You’ve never been married.” I see now that I should have combated that voice with the simple truth that God will provide everything I need for life and godliness. My sanctification does not depend on my life circumstance, but on God. My husband and I are only a few years into marriage, so I know there will be people who will read this and think “Just wait till you’re five years in. Wait till you retire, and he’s home all day.” To that I say, “No”.
No, I will not wait to find out what the ideal situation for growing in holiness is. No I will not wait for my real growth in the Lord to start just because someone tells me that their real growth in the Lord started at such and such point in their life. I will pursue growth now. Where I’m currently at: as a “young married” who thinks this marriage thing is pretty fun and easy.
You see, if difficult things are sanctifying things, than for me, singleness was far more sanctifying than marriage. Over the last few years, there have been moments that were challenging, when I had to consciously choose to be selfless, or remember that I have a share in conflict, and it’s not my part to blame my husband when something doesn’t go right. I have had moments like that. But those are the exceptions. For the most part, it’s been just like normal life, but with less stress and more fun.
When I was single, especially before I met my husband, I was faced every day with a situations that demanded that I live selflessly. When I walked in my door in the evening and there was no husband, no partner in life, to enjoy the evening with, I had to choose not to wallow in loneliness, though it was deeply felt. I had to choose to use my time instead to serve, or to rest well, or pray. I couldn’t succumb to the pull of Netflix or the internet just because I was in my house by myself, though those things would numb the ache I felt.
Every time I spent time with friends and was the third, fifth, or seventh wheel at the table, I had to choose to enjoy the time and not focus on how everyone was paired up and I was not. I had to choose thankfulness over focusing on what I didn’t have. Each of those daily, moment by moment choices, drove me to the throne of God. To live life genuinely celebrating with others while walking in deep loneliness requires a profound dependence on the Lord. That is sanctifying.
You see I was single, not because I really wanted to be, but because there were a plethora of amazing Godly women around me, and very few men stepping up to the plate. The numbers just didn’t work in my favor. I’m a fairly logical person, so I couldn’t delude myself into thinking that marriage was a guarantee for me, though my happily (or sometimes not-so-happily) married friends liked to insist that it was.
In the middle of that day-by-day loneliness, I also had to wrestle with the fact that I was watching the majority of the people around me get their turn at this marriage thing, and my part was to celebrate with them, all the while knowing that I may never get my turn. If I wanted to be genuine in my friendships, then selfishness could have no role.
No matter your circumstance in life, hard things will happen, challenges will come up. There will be relationships or situations that demand more love and selflessness of you than you care to give. God uses those moments, even those years, to sanctify us and draw us to Himself. Marriage will bring up those opportunities for growth. But so will singleness.