In the church, women are bombarded with practical teachings on how to be a good wife and a good mother. This likely comes from Titus 2:3-5 where God says to teach the younger generation “to love their husbands and children.” But where does this leave the single women who will never have a husband and therefore children?
An article I read recently presented the idea that single women should lay down their lives and submit their plans to the Lord because he is the trustworthy author of their lives. Rightly, this article points to joy that comes from Jesus and that nothing will ever separate us from his love (Rom 8:38-39). It concluded by summoning single women to surrender their lives to the beautiful, wild and adventurous plan that God has for you. This all sounds pretty good, right? The problem I find is that the encouragement isn’t actually in Christ. As a single woman, I am being urged to place my hope in a single life that will be “a wild and beautiful story.” This message is unintendedly deceitful.
In a world where stunning photos of perfect lives overlaid with pretty typography summon us to be “adventurers,” what do we do when life actually ends up looking like a single girl cooking for one after a nine-to-five day?
What the church can do.
Let’s start at the beginning of what the article addressed: what do single women do who aren’t wives and moms? This is a great question, and is one that the church has struggled to address.
Singleness is often written with a slant that assumes a single person’s life must be hard, but the Bible teaches that singleness can actually be a good thing. Paul tells it like it is: “he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor 7:38). And Jesus, the King of the universe teaches us in Mark 12:18-25 that in heaven, no one will be married. Why is it then that most women’s ministries revolve around moms and wives? Why is it that even singles' classes (a lot of times) revolve around preparing for marriage?
After Jesus talks about all people being single in heaven, he goes on to teach about the greatest commandment:
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31
Just like married people, single people should be anchored by this great commandment, pursuing it by seeking to be more like Jesus in every moment of every day. The church can help this pursuit by teaching women what it means to serve like Jesus served, love like Jesus loved, and deny yourself like Jesus denied himself on the cross (Rom 11:36), instead of focusing so much on fulfilling a mom’s role or a wife’s role. These are not the greatest commandments. This does not dismiss the notion that women should learn practical life skills for mothering and being a godly wife. But it does change the way we look at those things. My friend rightly says that being a wife and being a mother are not the end, but rather a means to an end. The end being: becoming more and more like Jesus, glorifying God.
What single people can do.
There often comes a moment when single people decide to let God write their story. But what does it actually look like to submit your life to God’s plan when you want a different one?
Singleness is hard partly because many expect God to give them a spouse. While marriage is a good desire (Heb 13:4), the desire becomes sinful when it usurps pleasing God. And, it is the loss of this personal expectation of marriage that causes so much suffering and heartache. We should not follow God because we think that if we do he will give us what we want. We should follow God because whether we are rich, poor, pretty, single, married or mothers, he is fully deserving of our praise (Ps 48:9-10). Focus on being faithful to him wherever he has placed you, instead of worrying about things to come (Matt 6:27-34).
Hope in Christ, Not in Adventure
When people who are single begin to let go of their personal expectation that God will have them be married only to replace it with one of a fun, adventure-filled, life full of abandonment for Jesus, they are still off mark. Expecting that God will give you a beautiful life in this picture-perfect sense is not what single people should be striving to gain. Perhaps, like me, when you’ve prayed to God and surrendered future relationships to him, your heart was still hoping in a “beautiful” future instead of choosing Christ even if that meant a relatively normal life.
Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. Jonah 1:8
Don’t make marriage, or an adventurous, Instagram-worthy life, an idol. Don’t squander your singleness by living a life of self-indulgence and carefreeness. Instead, no matter where God leads you in life, seek to love Christ and love other’s more. Meditate upon God’s unfailing love, which is sure and true and will last for all eternity. If feelings of loneliness arise, seek to know Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” by reading his Word (Col 2:3). Remember that this life is only a vapor (Jas 4:14).
A Perfect Future
To all of my single friends (and to myself), let’s not hope in some idea of what we think could be good for our little lives, let’s hope in Christ alone. God’s plans for the hardest life of singleness are better than your plans for even the best marriage. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways” (Rom 12:33). My dear friends, life on this fallen earth is temporary. Marriage is temporary. But God. He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). Look to the eternal him.
Amy Evenson is a daughter, a sister and is launching "Life Together: a Women's Theology Fellowship" at her church. She is the Executive Assistant to Dr. Heath Lambert at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.