The first in a possible series
A more difficult topic for a post I cannot imagine than that of singleness and the Christian life. It is intrinsically difficult to treat, but rather emotively so for someone who has obtained to nearly half of the promised three score and ten without the benefit and boundedness of the marital covenant. Most of what I have read and most of what has been written concerning singleness is presented from perspectives much unlike my own; the perspective of those who are still under the age of thirty and that of women who have passed that age and find themselves increasingly concerned about the ticking of the “biological clock” that seems ever louder with each coming year. Virtually nothing I’ve read deals well or at all with the condition of singleness for those in ministry, aside from rote recitations of St. Paul’s comments pertaining to the benefit of singleness for a those devoted a life of ministry. None of these treatments have been especially useful to me as I reflect upon my own blessed state (and it is blessed, despite intimations to the contrary contained in this post).
That singleness is such a poorly addressed issue (and I speak of course in context of contemporary American Christianity) is something for which the church ought to have no excuse. Our Lord was, of course, a single man as was St. Paul. The single celibate life has been celebrated throughout the history of the Church and in Roman Catholicism priests are required to express the chastity through remaining single rather than within the bonds of marriage. In the current climate of the Church however, singleness, though increasingly common, is viewed somewhat suspiciously and the older one gets without marrying the greater the level of attendant suspicion and concomitant pity, though such pity is generally veiled. Occasionally there is an expression of contrived envy which is barely credible and certainly not encouraging, though I know the hearts of the people who express such sentiment are usually pure. To hear, “But oh you get to devote time to the Lord and you are free to really do whatever without worrying about a family,” is about as convincing as the descriptions given by short term missionaries of the poor they met on mission; every loves to talk about how much freedom and joy in the Lord they have, but no one would ever trade places with them.
I contend that singleness is the default state of mankind; we are born single and we die single. Marriage on average takes somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 of a person’s life and much of that time is consumed in the bearing and rearing of children, a noble and God ordained ministry if ever there was any. However even though the average age of marriage has continued to rise (concurrently with decreased community and other support for young marriage) the discipleship and theological instruction concerning singleness tends to presume marriage will take place before the age of thirty, which for most people it will. When a person, especially a man, reaches the age of thirty, the Church really has nothing left to say to him. For those in the world to attain the age of thirty and to be unmarried is not surprising, and the culture provides models (albeit horrid and inaccurate ones) for what a thirty-something unmarried man is supposed to be and/or do. For the Christian, well, there’s always the singles group at church filled with women you either don’t want to date because they have issues you just don’t want to put up with or who don’t want to date you because they’re still waiting on a Prince Charming Knight in Shining Armor who is merely the Christianized version of popular stereotypes. (I don’t mean to hate on the ladies, but I’m writing from a guy’s perspective)
Speaking of stereotypes, there are some myths to singleness that ought to be put readily to rest or at least set aside as not applying to anyone I know. Again here I am speaking about Christians (and mostly about guys) so…
Myth: Single guys are not mature or ready to commit.
Truth: Single guys are as mature/immature commitment ready/commitment phobic as the Christian women they interact with. We need to kill the lie that women are more mature than men. They are not.
Myth: Singles have lots of freedom and time on their hands
Truth: The freedom of making every decision by oneself and tackling every household chore alone and not having help with simple life management takes up more time than you might imagine
Myth: Singles can devote themselves more fully to the Lord in ministry
Truth: Well this is true; it’s in the Bible. But, it is true with a caveat that single people in ministry are not really taken very seriously at all and are never really perceived as being adults.
Myth: Single guys have the advantage because at least they can take the initiative in relationship
Truth: This is also true with a caveat; it is freaking emotionally draining to ask someone out only to be told no, and then to know that you can’t ask anyone in that woman’s circle of friends out ever because then you get either the creepy weird Christian guy label or the arrogant just wants to get married Christian playboy label attached to you.
Myth: Singles have money because they don’t have a family to support
Truth: Singles, especially guys, are usually broke. Do you have any idea how much stuff people give you for free when you’re married? And not just at the wedding, but over and again. And don’t forget that useful two income thing that most folks have going.
Myth: Marriage kills your social life; singles have a better social life
Truth: Not really.
All in all singleness is not all it’s cracked up to be, so I’ve been lately advising students to marry sooner rather than later. They all think I’m strange and screw their faces into grimaces when I advise this. They are too young, too immature they say. But I know that they won’t outgrow their selfishness by spending the next 7 years focusing on their career and their self development. Besides, that old biological clock is still ticking.