Why does Kenny feel more respected walking into a room with a girl by his side? Or newly engaged Kim as though she’s being treated differently than when single—that her opinion suddenly matters?
The short answer is, we’re prejudiced. We judge and categorize and marginalize—even (or especially?) we who call ourselves “saved.”
A modern example is the marginalization of singles. Many singles have lost sight of their uniqueness and reason for existence. They’re stashed into singles groups (a.k.a. meat markets) and invited to the main (a.k.a adult, mature, going somewhere in life) party, once married.
Posing a question to singles about this on Facebook recently, the following comments showed-up on my screen: “I don’t feel included in the church”…”It’s as though I’m less competent because I’m single”…“People think we have endless amounts of time and energy to serve because we’re single”… “I’ve felt the pressure to get married and fallen victim to the lie that I am more valuable if married”…“In our culture, being married is a symbol of status, that you’ve somehow arrived or evolved”...
My own ride as a single found me feeling alone and confused, too. Not just about marriage, but about sex and dreams and unmet desires. I thought I’d done what a good Christian should do, and yet I remained single and unsure of just about everything. Could I even be a mature godly woman and not be married? Was it possible to be whole and holy apart from holy matrimony? I should be married by now, I thought, with baby-number-two on the way. Or if not married, at least making some grandiose movement toward world peace or saving Darfur. But I wasn’t. I was single. And felt singled-out by my raging pits of longing, in the Church and elsewhere.
Clearly there’s a breakdown in calling ourselves a unified, everyone’s equal in value, Family of God, and how we’re actually fleshing that out. Paul’s first letter to the city of Corinth warns us of this, and the necessity of every part knowing its role, lest the whole of parts cease to function. Here’s the kicker though—the one we follow, the Lord of all parts, was single. And died in his early thirties as the most fully human (and arguably mature) person to walk this earth. Apparently Godliness isn’t based on age, or marital status.
Throughout history, cultures have deemed singles sexless and barren, and at certain points even, cursed and unable to secure their eternal placement. A baby we know as Jesus shattered this paradigm, however, or at least shifted it dramatically for Christians. Counter to cultures before him, Jesus proposed a salvation not based on being married, or eternal life evolving from one’s last name, but by following Him. Never does Jesus mention marriage in this life as a prerequisite, or presupposition, for anything in the next. “The nuclear family,” he said in so many words, is secondary to the ever-enduring Kingdom family, Body of Christ, or Church. Jesus further tweaked ideas of marriage, itself, reframing its context to one that would not carry over into heaven(1), alluding to heaven’s preoccupation with obsessions other than our mate, like our Maker.
From the beginning, the union of marriage has been based on a deeper union between God and His people (namely, Yahweh in covenant relationship with Israel). Given his celibacy, Jesus brought forth a shift in ideas, reorienting Old Testament and ancient Judaic obligations of marriage and salvation through a physical family (Israel), to a new priority of Christ’s bride and our new family (the Church). That is, Biblical grace and salvation are available through both marriage and celibacy and marriage no longer acts as a barometer of holiness. Though each handles unique values and meanings, Christ incarnated a theology where both are equally valid and valuable ways of life(2). Persons may be as holy in a married state, as they are in a single state (3). As Ephesians 5 unpacks so well, God treasures marriage and singleness, alike, each as pointers toward our lasting spouse and satisfaction—in heaven with Christ.
Why Does This Matter?
Singles: This matters because Jesus paved your freedom to stand tall where He has you this season, involuntarily though it may be. You have a prophetic and crucial voice to remind Christians of our primary identity and union with God. You expose a spiritual love that ultimately binds the Church and points to the Kingdom marriage.
It also matters because you have a unique freedom this season. I talk to way too many singles who are waiting on their lives to begin, because they’re waiting on their spouse. If you have a dream buying a house, or moving to New York City, or hosting a dinner party, or traveling through Europe…, being married is not your permission or prerequisite—the Gospel is. If God has wired your heart to start a non-profit, or go to med-school, or write a love letter, or bake a pie, seek God and go for it! Or what about your desire to be a parent—why not volunteer at a local Boys & Girls Club, or offer to baby-sit for friends’ children, or look into fostering, or even adoption? In the words of Edith Shaeffer, “If you have no children of your own, you can adopt some for scattered hours in your life, helping them and yourself at the same time.(4)”
I don’t want to minimize your pain, or encourage you to distract from it by simply filling your calendar. You may simply need to be still for a while. What I do want to say is that dreams and desires won’t awaken just because you get married, and dark nights won’t cease if you depart from singleness. Life awakens when it is found living alive in Christ.
Marrieds: This matters because it’s part of the good news Jesus came to tell. And apart from it, you’re living apart from the whole story. Invite singles into your home and marriage and parenting…invite them into your life, humbly acknowledging that they have unique things to teach you, and image a unique reflection of the Creator and Kingdom. As you see opportunities, affirm where God is at work in a single person’s life and who He’s shaping them to be, apart from a spouse.
Church: This matters because together, we are the Bride, and have been called to reflect such a courtship with Christ. Our challenge is to move toward a, “separate, but equal,” distinct, but non-disparaging, relationship between marrieds and those who are not, widows and those who are not…prodigals, divorced, elderly, special needs, abused, abusive, addicted…and those who are not. If we as the Church are serious about being known by our love, we must rethink the single part of the Body, and the single part in relation to our whole. We must face-up to and turn from our prejudices of stage of life, or a sparkle from the left ring finger, and more seriously engage with Jesus’ theology on marriage and Family.
Unity cost Jesus his life. That is, it’s not something to be taken lightly. Unity is not uniformity—Christians are meant to display uniqueness amidst unified reconciliation and movement toward the coming Kingdom—distinct ages and life stages and ways of following the Way, all tinted toward the same Image of God. None of us is promised a marriage that will last forever. Some will remain single, some will lose their spouses, and even the most elaborate wedding on earth will soon be forgotten. The emphasis must land then, on the reality of the King as our promise, and everlasting marriage in His Kingdom.