The Suffering of Singleness
Singleness brings its own suffering, a kind of misery many married people simply don’t understand anymore. I wonder what the hardest days are for you? Maybe it’s been a breakup (or several). Or maybe it’s been that nothing’s ever gotten that far. There’s never been a real boyfriend or girlfriend who might break up with you. Maybe you gave up and started experimenting sexually—in relationships or online—looking for love, pleasure, and control, and instead finding shame, regret, and slavery. Maybe you’ve wanted to be a mom or a dad since you were old enough to know what one was. You’ve dreamed and dreamed about having little boys and girls of your own. You love your friends’ kids, but bitterness creeps in sometimes. Maybe you’re just longing for friendship or companionship, someone to laugh and cry with.
More people probably want to be married because of loneliness than because of sex and children combined. That’s my guess anyway. Maybe married people have made a few too many insensitive comments, encouraging you to enjoy “dating Jesus,” or reminding you how great it is to wait, or trying to hook you up with their uncle’s daughter’s friend’s sister. Maybe it has nothing to do with dating or marriage for you. Maybe it’s your parents’ relationship or divorce, or losing someone you loved too soon, or getting diagnosed with a life-threatening or life-altering condition or disease. Like everyone else, every not-yet-married person will experience pain, but pain will be magnified in some ways by singleness.
From Where Does Joy Come?
The pain of disappointment we feel in the not-yet-married life falls from trees filled with our expectations. Our dreams grow and get more beautiful over years and years in our young imaginations, and then reality reaps a harvest, almost indiscriminately plucking fruit that we want to taste for ourselves. I felt that way, anyway, after years of wanting marriage. We tend to define our life based on our perception of our progress. Am I where I thought I would be at this age? Have I achieved what I thought I would? Are my dreams more or less real today?
Marriage is a good gift and a terrible god.
Our plans and dreams can become idols. Marriage is a good gift and a terrible god. Most of my grief in my teenage years and even into my twenties came from giving more of my heart to my future marriage than to God. It’s easy to anchor our hope and happiness in a wife or husband and to define our growth, maturity, and worth by our marital status. And when we worship love, romance, sex, or marriage—and not God—we welcome the pain and disappointment.
If we are married in this life, it will only be for a brief moment, and we won’t regret that brevity ten thousand years from now. We really won’t. No one will say, “I really wish I was married,” much less, “I really wish I had been married for five or ten more years.” Those years will seem like seconds compared with all the gloriously, thoroughly happy time we will have after every marriage ends.
We need to think about that as we weigh the intensity of our desperation to have it now. We need to ask if we have made marriage a qualification for a happy and meaningful life. Am I undone and miserable by the prospect of never being married? Do I think of myself as incomplete or insignificant as an unmarried believer? These questions might reveal red flags that warn us marriage has become an idol. Ultimately, we will all be single forever, and it will be gloriously good. Marriage truly is a small and short thing compared with all we have in Christ forever. And I’m writing that as someone who spent more than a decade longing for the temporary this-life experience.
God's Better Story
Is the life you’re currently living the one you always wanted for yourself? Did you think you’d be married by now? What about your job—not what you hoped for? Do you feel like your gifts are being wasted? Do you dream about doing something different with your life? Maybe you wish you were living somewhere else. You long to be closer to home (or farther away).
The reality is that all of us can imagine something better for ourselves than our circumstances today. The greater reality is that if you love and follow Jesus, God always writes a better story for you than you would write for yourself. The “better” is based on this: God himself is the best, most satisfying thing you could ever have or experience, and, therefore, fullness of life is ultimately found not in any earthly success, relationship, or accomplishment but in your proximity to God through faith.
The dark side of this good news is that you may have to walk through pain, disappointment, rejection, and suffering for seven or eight (or seventy or eighty) years. The brighter (and prevailing) side says God never makes a mistake in choosing good for you. Everything you experience—expected or unexpected, wanted or unwanted, pleasing or painful—is God’s good plan to make you his own (John 10:27–29), to give you himself forever (Ps. 16:11), and to use your life to reveal himself and his glory to the world around you (Isa. 43:25; 1 Cor. 10:31).
This post is adapted from Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating by Marshall Segal. Check out the infographic based on a survey we sent to 7,000 readers highlighting some common trends when it comes to how we view singleness, dating, and marriage today.