I’ve had requests to post the speech I gave (on the topic of singleness) to the ladies at my church in Spring of 2015.
I’ve been dragging my feet on that request for 9 months, but I was recently reminded of how important this topic is and how relevant these themes are for my life now, so I was compelled to finally share.
It’s certainly not a definitive statement on the single Christian life, or a complete look at the struggles and blessings of singleness, but I hope that it will encourage you if you need reminding that you are not alone in your singleness.
Singleness and the Church
When I first started to think about this, I knew that I needed to reach out to other single women to learn from their experiences and compile for you a balanced perspective on the single life. I spoke with six other single ladies and asked them four questions which I thought that I would talk about with you today. I will still touch on those areas but the consensus in all of their observations about the single life led me down a different path. I realized that what we really need to talk about are four different things.
The gospel, the church, fellowship, and God’s sovereignty in all things.
Singles long for the affection of marriage, to know that you have been CHOSEN as someone’s BELOVED. That’s an enviable thing. The church is the bridegroom of Christ. Marriage is a beautiful model of God’s love for us. It is a very desirable thing, but it is not an ultimate thing. Marriage points us towards an ultimate thing.
You can show Jesus to a single person by being intentional with that person. Something as simple as texting a single friend to ask them how they are, or inviting her over for lunch, lets her know that you are being mindful of her- as God is mindful of her, and that you have chosen her as a friend- as God has chosen her, and that you care for her- as a mirror of God’s caring for her. All of these things show Christ to me, and they are very simple things.
That is really something to marvel at, how simple it is to share the gospel! We are the hands and feet of Christ to one another and we cannot forget that.
It doesn’t take the position of a deacon or an elder or the skills of a great evangelist to make meaningful strides for the sake of the kingdom. The greatest of all commandments is to love one another. This is where we fail, and this is where we absolutely excel! We need each other!
When we withdraw from each other we restrict the flow of Christ’s love. This is absolutely a two way street. When marrieds withdraw into the nuclear family, creating an inclusive sphere, the outward vision of the gospel is not supported and the single is left on her own little island, starved for meaningful companionship. When the single withdrawals, the reasons are different, but the outcome is the same. She is not serving as God’s hands and feet to her married counterparts and what could have been a mutual blessing of fellowship and support to her and to her friend and a proclamation of Christ to the world is instead a vacuum. There is emptiness where there should have been fullness.
So that’s an ugly thing, right? Fortunately, we can experience that in contrast to the joy of fellowship in the unity of the body of Christ. God gave me the gift of singleness and he might have given you the gift of a marriage… the important thing to note is not that status, but that both of these things can be actively used to glorify Him within those relationships we form in the church.
I’ve never been one to take on a label. I don’t want to be defined by anything. I don’t want to be known as an artist or as a broke millennial. Or as a twenty-something that lived at home for 5 years. Or as a Presbyterian or as a Baptist. The only label I’m comfortable taking on is Christ Follower.
If I take on anything else, indeed if any of us take on anything else, whether that be wife, mother, so-and-so’s daughter, PhD, so on and so forth what we’re saying to the world is that this is our qualifier. This is the thing that defines me. You say that this is the one thing that I value enough to be known as, to take on as a label of my identity. It speaks more to our social status than to our heart. If we take on anything but the name of Christ then we can add idolater to that label.
So I’m speaking to you not as a representative of the single women in this church but as your sister in Christ. I’m not any of those things individually but I’m all of those things and so much more. I’m Erica Parker and a follower of Christ. At the end of the day I think that’s what all of us want- not to be identified by external conditions but to be known by others by the unconditional love of Christ.
That’s what we need to focus on, our commonality in Christ. And that’s what this conference is about.
So, sisters, where does this leave us? I want to share with you some of my experiences as a single woman and the experiences of other single women that I know. These thoughts are representative of some of the blessings of singleness and some of the struggles. I can’t hope to represent the perspective of every single woman but I will try to be faithful to my experiences and what has been shared with me by other single women.
My single life is not God’s plan B.
This is that bit when I said I was going to talk about God’s sovereignty. There’s an unfortunate sentiment in culture, and in church as well, that says you haven’t experienced the fullness of what it means to be a woman if you’re not married or maybe you’re married and you haven’t had or can’t have children. This somehow means your experiences as a woman are worth less than your married counterparts, your life somehow less fulfilled; and my personal favorite to hear as a young single woman… that you’re not quite an adult yet. In the church, unfortunately, this sentiment often translates to marriage and family as a higher spiritual plane that everyone should aspire to. Simply put, this is idolatry.
We need to encourage and affirm our single friends that their lives are not a mistake. Remember that single people are already whole people. Their marital status is not a problem to be fixed because marriage is not a greater fulfillment of the human or Christian experience.
Y’all, it hurts when being a wife and mother is said or implied to be a woman’s greatest calling. A single woman might want to get married but there’s no guarantee that is in her future. It doesn’t mean she cannot fulfill God’s purpose for her life. I’m single and that’s not a bad thing!
Married people are not “more” sanctified than their single brethren. God may use your spouse as a part of your sanctification process. He uses relationships to sanctify me, as well. I have no doubt that if a spouse was the best key to my sanctification, I’d be married right now. My singleness means that God has me exactly where he wants me- to serve and glorify him in exactly the way that He wants me to.
One of the main blessings that I can look on in my singleness is that I’m constantly being pointed back to my dependency on Christ for all things. Everyone has to reconcile reality with expectation. You compare your life the way it is now and the way you expected it to be and those are generally not the same thing.
For instance, my mother had two children by the time she was my age. I always expected that I would meet someone in college and get married. It’s what my mom did and it’s what a lot of people do- so it became an expectation that I was shocked to find out it was not going to be my reality. I at least expected to be well on my way to a fantastic career if I stayed single. There’s nothing quite like disillusionment to make you understand your dependency upon Christ!
The last things I want to touch on are areas of improvement for the church, and things that the church does really well that I want to affirm.
Pray for singles in a way that honors the path that God has them on now. I’ve heard too many prayers for singles make us sound like lonely, pitiable wretches. Affirm that this is God’s plan A for their life! If you’re not sure how to pray for the singles in your life, ask them! I’m sure that they would be happy to share with you.
Include singles on committees so our perspective can be heard and our unique needs met.
Don’t let singles be code for ‘young people’. Be aware of the demographic that singles represent in the church, it’s a higher percentage than you might think. And celebrate this- because God has brought diversity to our congregation. And we learn the most from diversity, not homogeny.
Finally, I have been loved and cared for so well by this church! God has provided me with an endless stream of things to be thankful for through all of you. We have good connectivity. Of course it’s not a perfect system, because we’re not perfect people, but I know that my church family is going to be there as a support system when I need them. For everything from a spiritual crisis to a physical need, God has provided for me so well as a young single woman through the blessing of community in this church.
If you take away one thing from this discussion, I want it to be that you remember that your friendship is highly valued and of great importance to kingdom work.
Love in Christ,