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Rethinking Your Purpose as a Single

single guy sitting on a couch thinking about his purpose as a single
If singleness and marriage both proclaim the gospel, then why don’t we live like we believe it?

I was a junior attending Bible college in the Pacific Northwest when I first felt the pressure to get married. That spring, the dorm bulletin board abounded with wedding announcements, including those of several close friends. I hadn’t gone to college expecting to emerge with a husband, but I wasn’t opposed to the idea. And as many of my peers began finding their matches, I started to feel that maybe my single status made me different from them — in a bad way.

This feeling would follow me to Colorado when I relocated for my first editing job. Of all the places to find someone with whom to start a family, surely Focus on the Family is it, I thought. I was wrong. Although I relished my job, made amazing friends, and discovered fun hobbies, I went through many days feeling like I hadn’t quite arrived. My single friends and I would sometimes discuss the nagging impression that we weren’t quite as worthy as the married folks. And while I loved my church, most of its ministries seemed focused on married couples and families, leaving me feeling overlooked.

Singled out

One thing I discovered in my 20s is that not all singles are on the same track. For non-Christian singles who feel no obligation to live according to biblical commands, singleness isn’t necessarily considered a bad thing. In fact, popular media often portrays “settling down” with one monogamous partner as a negative event that drains your resources and limits your personal freedoms. Unfettered by the constraints of Scripture, a single person is “free” to live life in whatever way he or she sees fit.

Then there are the Christian singles: the (ostensibly) sexless, devout and unattached. Their experience is quite different as they submit their sexual desires to Christ until He provides them with the proper context for this expression. Both types of singles may be lonely, but those seeking to live by biblical standards may feel penalized because the unique joys of marriage are off-limits to them for the duration of their singleness. This naturally creates a sense of “missing out.”

For me, the feeling that I was inferior to my married counterparts came from two main sources: 1) My internal thoughts, judgments and feelings about myself; and 2) the messages I received from others. Although I knew the Bible said singleness was acceptable and sometimes even preferred, I still tended to view my single status as a failure. Along with many of my friends, my younger brother married just out of college and already had three kids while I was still single in my 30s. This seeming inequity frustrated me.

A girlfriend once said, “I’m successful in all these other areas — education, career, finances — and yet this one goal of finding a spouse eludes me.” I felt the same. Though I desired marriage, meeting the right person and entering a relationship that led to matrimony seemed out of my reach. I could get a master’s degree, a dream job or even a house, but my singleness seemed like an unsolvable “problem” that left me wondering if I was hopelessly flawed.

Remarks from others, particularly those who were married, didn’t help to ease my fears. They seemed perplexed by my singleness. “Do you like being single?” they asked. “Are you too picky?” “Are you unwilling to settle down?” While my answers to each of these questions was no, the implications caused embarrassment and self-doubt. I didn’t know how to explain why I wasn’t married, and I was weary from trying.

One reason I could identify for my extended singleness was a lack of options. I simply had not met a godly man who seemed like a good match for me. I sometimes sensed married people felt sorry for me because I had failed to find the love and happiness they themselves had secured. I also felt misunderstood. In many cases it had been simple for them to find a wonderful spouse, yet that was not my story.

Wanting marriage

While the number of married people ages 18-35 dropped from 59 percent in 1978 to 29 percent in 2018, other data reveals that many Christian singles still desire marriage. Lyman Stone talked about this in a recent article for “Christianity Today”:

“In a survey of regularly church-attending single women under 35, my consulting firm found that the average desired family size was 2.7 children, versus just 2 children for never-attending single women or 2.8 for regularly attending married women. Christian singles have about the same family aspirations as their married peers. They are unmarried not mostly because of a lack of desire but because of factors not strictly within their control: family and churches who discouraged hasty and young marriage, lack of suitable Christian partners, instability in the job market, fears of divorce motivating hyperselectivity, and so on.”

That was me: a single woman who desired marriage but felt powerless to make it happen. While some questioned the reason for my singleness, others glorified it, raving about how exciting and fancy-free my life seemed. And, in truth, I was able to soak up experiences that I never could have managed had I been married and caring for children. I traveled. I performed with a comedy improv troupe. I stayed out late laughing and talking and having chips and salsa with my friends. I ran half-marathons and got to the gym regularly. I met my girlfriends for breakfast and coffee weekly.

I also had the free time to make spiritual investments. I had unhurried quiet times with God that were truly “quiet.” I soaked up His Word, prayed and worshiped with few distractions. I attended Bible studies and small groups. I served in children’s ministry. I had the freedom to jump in and serve at my church and be available to friends who needed to talk.

In so many ways, my singleness was sweet. And yet the underlying question of my worthiness that ran beneath the surface was bitter.

Rethinking singleness

In the Old Testament, singleness and barrenness were dreadful burdens to carry. You were nothing without a family line. In the book of Ruth, when Naomi and Ruth return to the land of Judah, Naomi is so broken by the death of her husband and sons that she requests her friends call her “Mara,” which means bitter. God’s people multiplied through marriage and babies; without those things, Naomi felt she was being punished by God.

I recently heard Pastor David Platt discuss how this emphasis changed in the New Testament. “A whole new meaning of being a family emerges,” he said. “The New Covenant changed everything.” The family was no longer centered on bloodlines because God had created a brand-new family comprised of all believers. Every Christ-follower, regardless of ethnicity, sex or relationship status, belongs to this family (Galatians 3:28).

While marriage is still part of God’s good design for humans as a solution for loneliness, a reflection of the mystery of Christ and the church, and a committed relationship from which to bear and raise godly children, singleness is also presented as a valid option. Those living in celibate singleness can effectively follow Jesus, serve the church, produce spiritual fruit and invest in Kingdom work. Though their methods may look different from those of their married counterparts, God does not value them less. Moreover, every Christ-follower has exactly what he or she needs to live a life of godliness, regardless of relationship status.

On the podcast, Platt went on to explain how singles fit into the family of God:

“Marriage is a display of the gospel. Singleness is also a unique portrayal of the gospel. Both are good gifts. Christian singleness, unlike the world, says, ‘You don’t need someone else to complete you.’ Jesus fully completes you. You don’t need sexual expression through marriage to be a full person. [Singleness] is a picture of full identity in Jesus, which points forward to heaven.”

I would have loved to hear those words when I was single. Some days singleness didn’t feel like much of a “gift.” While cultural factors certainly influence how many Christian marriages are made, single men and women of all ages are part of God’s design. They have the distinct privilege of trusting Him in unique ways as they cultivate rich relationships, trust God with their needs, and serve Him wholeheartedly.

Single on purpose

If singleness is a source of grief or sorrow for you, you are not alone. Navigating life with unfulfilled longings and wondering if marriage will ever happen is a tough and tender road to walk. I struggled with contentment as a single woman. Not surprisingly, those years were an incredible opportunity to radically depend on God. I discovered I could be honest with Him about my disappointments and heartsickness over what felt like an unwanted detour. As I grieved what wouldn’t be, I found comfort in Him and in my community of believers. I learned I could trust His plan when I didn’t understand what He was doing.

Regardless of marital status, each of us is called to preach the gospel in everything we do. Marriage is meaningful. Singleness is also meaningful. Paul, who was single, said he had learned to be content in every situation. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

I had never considered that well-known passage being spoken from a single person’s perspective. Paul, who passionately preached the gospel and helped establish the church, relied on God’s strength in good times and bad — as a single man. He recognized Jesus as his all in all and leaned into God’s sufficient grace.

Like all believers, those who are unmarried are part of God’s design to reach a broken world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has given us different positions and circumstances from which to glorify Him and build His Kingdom. Beyond that, He has made us family. He’s given us brothers and sisters to invest in and serve alongside. Single or married, let’s encourage each other to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, whatever that path may look like.

Copyright 2024 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved. 

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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