Contentment: The Single's Dilemma

Singleness is an interesting stage of life to navigate. Whether you’re a Christian or not, it is topic that's been hotly debated on multiple fronts, probably since the beginning of time (or at least the last few hundred years).

The Single’s dilemma is one that strives to marry two sides that can’t be perfectly meshed together. It is the tension that rests between contentment and pursuit, being thankful for where you are at, but also pushing to what lies beyond your current state. This is a tension that is especially felt with each additional year you spend as a single individual in a world dominated by couples.

Clarifying My Stance

I want to clarify something right away. I believe God has created man and woman for each other (Genesis 2), and that God has designed us to be relational-beings. Thus, it would be safe to say that the majority of humans will be married, and I would go so far as to say - should be married.

With that being said, marriage is never guaranteed for everyone. The point is, a majority will be married, but a minority of singles will remain single. And, most importantly, neither is better than the other.

The funny thing with the culture present today (especially within the church), is that the prior statement I just made could come across as “controversial”, despite the several explicit statements made by Paul (1 Cor. 7), and the implicit statements made by Jesus (Matt 19:11).

In thinking through this cultural bias, there are several observations I believe are helpful in understanding how this has developed and how it affects both singles and marrieds today.

Observation #1: Singleness is a season of life, lasting an unknown length of time.

Just because you are single now doesn’t mean you “have the gift of singleness”, destined to be single forever. In fact, chances are you don’t have that calling and you won’t be single forever or even much longer than another year.

Viewing and thinking about singleness as a season instead of an identity is both liberating and invigorating. Liberating because we no longer have to resign ourselves to the depressive state of an "unworthiness to be married” or an inferior position below the marital status held by most of our friends, family, and peers. Invigorating because it allows us to see this season as one that is likely passing by, and thus, we must do all that we can - NOW - in order to make the most of this season before it is forever gone.

Observation #2: Marriage changes your perspective.

This statement seems like an obvious and trivial point to be made, but discarding it due to simplicity is a mistake.

From the people I’ve interacted with and heard perspectives from, after being married for six months (or even as few as four weeks) they can’t imagine life before marriage. Living in matrimony with another human quickly becomes the “new norm” once you step into marriage. This means, you no longer have the ability to fully relate to your single brothers and sisters. Of course you can always reflect back on your time as a single person, but even in your reflection, as commonly understood from psychology and sociology, your memories will always be impacted by the present reality of your life and the amount of time that has transpired between the particular event and your current reality. More times than not, our memories are morphed into a jumble of real and imaginative realities.

All this to say, for married people to believe they have a clear grasp of the benefits and challenges of singleness is as much naive as it is ignorant, almost to the level of a single person giving marriage advice (key word: almost).

Observation #3: Being single at 19 is different than 25, or 40.

Singleness cannot be contained or depicted as a unilateral experience. Just as writing a paper or article as a 19-year-old is different than writing as a 25-year-old, so too is singleness and the experience of this season. There are so many external and internal differences that they are almost not even the same category. There is also some truth in saying that your experience as a 25-year-old single may be drastically different than my experience as a 25-year-old single.

This is something I still have to remind myself of, and this is why it is so important to abstain from too many dogmatic generalizations - statements applying to such a broad spectrum of realities. Just because you weren’t successful at using singleness well at 19 (who was?), doesn’t mean I can’t be successful at using this season well at 25.

Observation #4: Different, but equal.

The biblical reality of singleness is that: it is different, but equal to marriage. This is the same perspective that’s needed in the sphere of male vs. female - distinctly different, but equal.

This is a challenge facing the church today and there is much to be said for the impact it can have. On one side of the coin, marriage could hardly be more exalted and extolled within the local church. It is universally preached on, encouraged and prescribed for, expounded upon, and pressured into (but really though). While marriage is an important topic to extensively convey, the excess can lead to added pressure on singles when combined with an absence of the biblical perspective on singleness.

This is obviously not done explicitly, but rather implicitly. What happens when something, biblically, is shown to have value but is never publicly or verbally taught on by a pastor or other leaders in the church? It becomes devalued. It’s not that there are explicit statements made against singleness, but by the very nature of not discussing its benefit, you undermine its worth, communicating just as much by what you don’t say as by what you do say.

Step into the Single’s Shoes

There are many effects of these implicit and explicit messages sent by churches, but one of the most powerful (and most sinister) is what happens beneath the surface - on the subconscious level. If the message you constantly hear is: “Nike shoes are the best. They look the coolest, they have the most comfort, they are the most dependable, they produce the best performance, and they lead to a greater life.”; what will happen when you don’t own a pair of Nike’s? You will feel like your missing out. You will feel lesser than all those who do own a pair of Nike’s. While you never hear those words, that is the message that often gets translated to your subconscious.

The point in this illustration is to say: a direct effect of only hearing one side of the story (marriage being good) is that singles subconsciously feel devalued. The reason this is sinister is because we are almost entirely unaware of how our subconscious effects our thoughts and behavior (Strangers to Ourselves) - meaning this is an invisible enemy that often leaves us defenseless, at the mercy of it’s power and will.

While this sounds harsh and dogmatic, the point I’m trying to make is: this is an issue that needs to be brought to light, creating awareness among singles and marrieds alike.

Balancing Thoughts

There are several distinctions I want to leave you with to balance out this singleness-heavy post.

  1. The goal is NOT to glorify singleness above its rightful place - I want to encourage singleness to be returned to an even ground with marriage, and nothing beyond that.

  2. The last thing I want to do is to deify singleness - it is simply a season of life that God has given us, just as much as living in a certain location can be seen as a season.

  3. I simply don’t know if singleness is my life-long calling or not - and that’s okay. The point isn’t about knowing the future, it’s about recognizing your reality, now. 

  4. This post is not meant to engender sympathy for being single - singleness is a blessing! The last thing I want people to feel is sorry for me or other singles thriving during this season God’s given us. (Empathy is much different than sympathy.)

In Conclusion

Enough has been said for today, but more can and should be said in the future. I don’t want to simply encourage marrieds (and singles) to value the season of singleness, I want to help both sides know how we can thrive during this time. God has called us to redeem the time He's given us, no matter the season. It is my belief and conviction (which I stole from the apostle Paul) that singleness can and should lead to the deepest possible relationship with God. But, even that statement is ignorant of the fact that God has called each of us to different giftings, equippings, and callings as His children.

At the end of the day, contentment has to be fought for. The human condition we all face - amplified by both culture at large, and the church culture in a smaller capacity - is that: “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” My purpose in writing this post is to show that: “the grass is greener on the side of the fence that you water.”

... So the question is: why are we watering the other side?