This guest post by Hannah Rasmussen is a great look at the blessings of singleness from a female perspective, although it's just as relevant to single men, too. Hannah is a reader of the blog who reached out to me to dialogue about some of my work, and I was happy to discover some great posts about singleness on her own blog. I asked her to compile some of her thoughts into a two-part miniseries, and I'm excited to share it here!
Hannah is the author of Good News about Gender: A Bible Study for Young Adults.She grew up as a missionary kid in Tanzania and now lives in Kenya, editing Christian books by African authors and coaching people through the writing process. She blogs at hannahras.wordpress.com
Seek first the kingdom:
Singleness is a good gift from God
Paul says singleness itself is a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7). Just like other spiritual gifts within the church, singleness is meant to build up the church “body” or community. For one thing, it enables us to be single-minded in our pursuit of the kingdom of God.
Single people’s availability for ministry has made invaluable contributions. Imagine how much Jesus would have worried a wife: “Foxes have holes, but I was born in a manger and haven’t had a home since!” Or Paul: “Sorry honey, I know I never write. I used up my papyrus sorting out Corinth again. Don’t worry, it was just the usual 39 lashes.” Ruth built King David’s and Jesus’ genealogy because she chose a poor and bitter mother-in-law over a husband from her homeland. Then of course, there’s the virgin Mary.
I can see how my singleness has been a gift – not only to me, but to the church. Instead of devoting all my resources to raising kids, I have spent time with family, given to causes I care about, and paid off my student loans. I’ve invested in my personal growth, in higher education to develop my call to teach and preach, and in publishing books and articles. I’ve had the freedom to move across the world at the drop of a hat to work on a monumental Africa Study Bible and to travel all across the continent meeting potential writers. Because I can relate, I’ve been able to preach to single college students, comfort friends grieving heartbreak, and stand up for marginalized groups being disrespected by leadership.
How has singleness grown you? What have you learned about yourself and the world? How has it enabled you to love others – investing time and resources, empathizing, advocating, or serving the church? Let’s not be servants entrusted with an investment only to bury it in the ground. Let’s be faithful with the gifts God’s given – including singleness.
You don’t have to be ashamed or scared of desire:
Sex is a good gift from God
As a teenager, I was catcalled constantly as one of two white girls in our Tanzanian town. I was also harassed in a toxic school culture. Coupled with warnings to Christian teens about setting strict boundaries to avoid sinning sexually or being lusted after, I got the message that looks were a liability, romantic touch was scary, and sexual desire was dangerous.
Women are familiar with being reduced to an object of desire, whether it’s through fashion, the media, or dress codes enforcing modesty. Some may carry shame from past mistakes, addictions, or abuse. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned and realized they were naked, our relationships as men and women have been broken by sin and our sexuality has involved hiding in shame.
Christian women are often taught to manage men’s desires, with little attention given to their own. But the Song of Songs affirms that God designed both men and women with powerful sexual longing. Its beautiful poetry celebrates the lovers’ mutual pleasure in each other’s bodies as well as in being desired. Its imagery is full of garden metaphors, as if a symbolic return to Eden. Even as we grapple with how sex has been distorted by sin, we can learn it is genuinely a beautiful and life-affirming gift God designed to strengthen intimacy within marriage.
We can directly combat our instincts to hide our nakedness by admitting our shame in community. As shame researcher Brené Brown puts it, “The way to fight shame and to honor who we are is by sharing our experience with someone who has earned the right to hear it… Shame thrives on secret keeping” (Daring Greatly, p.80, 82). Communal prayer both heals physical sickness and forgives sin, James says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:15-16). Christian accountability groups and mentors can help discern whether specific desires are healthy and normal or sin to confess and be forgiven of. I’ve found healing through counseling, lots of respectful interactions with men, and positive dating experiences.
When we come to appreciate that sex is good, we don’t have to be so afraid of identifying and acting on romantic desires in healthy ways. Christian girls are often told guys should pursue, so they should just wait for sex and for a husband. But passively pining for Prince Charming can feel helplessly frustrating. In what other area of life do we think it’s admirable to make no effort and expect God to drop something in our lap?
If you want a date, why not channel that energy into action? Read about dating, make a profile online, or ask people to set you up. Give a great guy a compliment, host a barbecue and ask people to invite their friends, or attend an event where you can meet new people. If it’s anything like my experience, you’ll make great memories, learn to laugh at yourself, meet fascinating people, and collect hilarious stories along the way.
Marriage isn’t a reward, and singleness isn’t failure:
Marriage is a good gift from God
Singles committed to chastity get the message we are failures from all sides. Cultures throughout history and across the world tell women our highest achievement is in marriage and motherhood. More recently, Western culture has marketed romantic sexual expression as the path to fulfillment, and pities “repressed” people who don’t act on their every desire.
Sometimes there is a spiritual guilt trip here too. In a bid to motivate chastity, Christian dating books sometimes made it feel like you could earn a happy marriage to a sexy spouse by staying pure. A single mentor courageously confessed to me how she had messed up ages ago, and wondered if she was forgiven. Seeing how she still struggled with bitterness scared me that if I didn’t follow the rules, God might punish me with miserable singleness and years of regret.
But treating marriage as an achievement or a reward implies that if we desire marriage but are still single, we must be failures. Who hasn’t thought, “I’m still single because I’m unlovable. I’m too __. I’m not __ enough”? These fears aren’t baseless. We probably have irritating quirks. We may have unresolved trauma. We may have messed up in the past. We’re certainly a work in progress.
In other words, there is definitely something wrong with you – and me.
But that’s not why we’re still single.
Think about it. There are people who got married at 22 with at least as many issues as us. There are unmarried people nearing 40 who would be great catches. Marriage isn’t something we earn by being the good girl and singleness isn’t some punishment dished out to the deserving. As others have pointed out, this is a softer version of prosperity teaching or works-based gospel, the notion that we can somehow manipulate God by our good deeds.
Instead, a spouse is a gift from God. The first man literally fell asleep and woke up next to his dream girl. He didn’t do anything to seduce or earn Eve’s love. She was a gift. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17) – including a good spouse (Proverbs 19:14).
This is the essence of Christianity, honestly. Something is wrong with all of us. But our generous God loves us anyway. God gives us all gifts we don’t deserve and can’t earn.