Why does it seem that singleness is one of the worst things that can happen to someone?

I was unwittingly fed this narrative by movies I watched as a kid. Take for instance Cinderella—marriage was the goal, and being single was the curse to overcome. At the end of the story, when Cinderella did marry and all the birds and mice were celebrating, she ended up with incredible wealth, a devoted partner, and a literal castle.

Or, consider Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, whose singleness ended with each of them falling into a death-like sleep!

So, let’s be honest: Is singleness more than just a pass-through phase on the road to marriage? Is there a divine purpose for singleness that can actually make it enjoyable and fulfilling?

As a single man myself, I have come to believe so, and I think Paul did too, as evidenced in 1 Corinthians 7. God offers us more to dream about than fairy tale weddings, and I’ve found three concrete reasons why singleness can actually be a wonderful thing.

Singleness Is a Gift

I wish that all of you were [single] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that (1 Corinthians 7:7).

Singleness doesn’t feel like a freshly unwrapped Christmas present to those of us living it day by day. So why would Paul, after talking extensively about marriage, offer his own opinion wishing that everyone was like himself … SINGLE?

Honestly, I’d love to reach back in time and say politely to Paul, “Uh, thanks, but no thanks!” Instead, I did some soul-searching, to think practically about how my singleness might be a gift after all, and what Paul might have had in mind. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:

The Gift of Time: As a single, the amount of flexibility in my schedule compared to that of someone who is married is unparalleled. I get the opportunity to serve not only in Life Action, but because I don’t have a wife and children at home, I also get to serve in my local church in multiple, unique ways. What a great joy this has been, to pour myself out for the kingdom of God, all because I have the gift of time. As long as it lasts, I want to maximize it!

The Gift of Deeply Diverse Friendships: In my singleness, I have been able to develop a multitude of friendships that have benefited my spiritual walk. Because I don’t have family at home consuming most of my connection time, I am able to spend that time building deep relationships. God has blessed me with close friends of all different age groups and demographics. These godly friends have poured into my life and strengthened my relationship with Christ. I’m grateful for every one of them, and I know the picture would be quite different if I were a married man.

The Gift of Priorities: Married people are tied to the world in ways that singles just aren’t. Now, the things that married people are tied to—spouses and family—are in themselves precious gifts, of course. I would never minimize that. But, we as singles can much more easily prioritize based on eternal things, not nearly as weighed down by practical family considerations.

Elisabeth Elliot said, “God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” So, that’s what I’ve been holding onto—that singleness, for this season, is the best thing God has for me. It’s a gift I should accept based on my faith in God and His love.

Singleness Paints an Image of Christ’s Sufficiency

A favorite grown-up movie of mine is Jurassic World, the one about a dinosaur theme park gone wrong. One of the more exciting moments is an epic pterodactyl attack. Deadly monsters are swooping down from the skies and attacking a large crowd of screaming, scattering tourists. Right in the middle of it, the hero of the story is fighting back with a tranquilizer gun. And despite the utter chaos that is ensuing, all of a sudden we find the main character kissing a girl.

What? When you’re about to be eaten by a pterodactyl? I found this quite baffling, because if I were in this situation, I would be running for dear life, not kissing someone! But, here again, the Hollywood-reinforced view of singleness comes into play—that the hero has done battle with dinosaurs, has faced down incredible odds, and now—well, now he gets the girl! For the story to feel complete, he must have a significant other at his side, right?

This is what the world believes, I guess, and it has led so many people to pursue relationships just to be in one, rather than because they actually have found the right one.

So it’s really swimming upstream to be a Christian single choosing contentment, believing that great things can be accomplished in life without that special someone along for the ride. And I think it can be an incredible witness to a world in which many people begrudgingly find themselves single—that in Christ, and because of Christ, it is possible to be single and satisfied. What a marvelous opportunity to point people to the all-sufficient Jesus!

Singleness Opens the Door for Radical Living

Paul writes in verse 32, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.” The original wording conveys a deep sense of passion and excitement. This is quite the opposite of the old narrative that “singleness is a waiting period.” It certainly is not! A single should be completely consumed with his relationship with Christ. This can motivate him to live a life that is sold out for the kingdom, taking radical steps of obedience to God.

Some of the most influential Christians in history were single: C. S. Lewis, John Stott, many missionaries, and, of course, Jesus. These people accomplished what they did for the kingdom not in spite of their singleness, but because of it.

Gladys Aylward (whose biography I wholeheartedly recommend) is another great example of a single life well lived. At a young age, she felt a call from God to go to China, and despite the many people who stood in her way saying she couldn’t do such a thing as a single woman, Gladys prevailed and eventually made her way to China at the age of 34. Once in China, Gladys wasted no time in working to end the horrible practice of foot binding, and she established an orphanage in the city of Yangcheng. Her service and genuine heart earned her great respect within the community.

At one point she was even summoned during a prison riot. “Go in and stop them!” the warden exclaimed.

“Why me?” she gasped.

The warden challenged, “You tell us your God is all-powerful. Is He or is He not?”

She marched into the prison and up to the largest inmate and demanded that he hand her (a 4’10” woman) the bloody meat cleaver he was wielding … and he did!

During the Japanese invasion of China during World War II, Gladys led her one hundred orphans, on foot, to safety over the mountains. On the journey she suffered a gunshot wound and great sickness, yet still she prevailed in leading the children to safety. What a life!

Here’s what many people don’t know: Along the way, she was actually proposed to by a man she admired. But Gladys declined to marry him because she wanted to stay focused on the mission she had from God.

So, what’s stopping singles like me (and perhaps you) from living this sort of all-in missional life today, where Jesus is everything to us? Why don’t more of us take up the call to live radically for Christ, and take advantage of the gift of singleness, for as long as the Lord allows us to have it?

Maybe we’re too enamored with Cinderella stories; maybe our focus has been off-center. So, let’s change that, my single friends. Let’s become an unstoppable force for Christ in this generation, not in spite of our single status, but because of it!

 

Nathan Cowles is a Project Director at Life Action Ministries. He spends his time getting his degree in Business Administration, serving in his local church, and golfing. His last seven years have been spent serving the Lord in various roles as a single Christian. During this time, he has developed an appreciation for all that can be accomplished and achieved through a deep relationship with Christ in this season of singleness.