I’m single. I live in Sydney’s east with my two flatmates and my cat. (The crazy-cat-lady litmus test is that you know you’ve become one and you don’t care.) I’m in my late thirties. Many of the struggles that surround singleness are my struggles too: tossing up between living on my own (and being lonely and possibly broke) or living with flatmates (and regularly having to find and get used to new ones); turning up to things on my own all the time; feeling the unvoiced wonderings of friends, who think I’m too fussy, or gay, or weird; feeling surprised and disappointed that I’m not married by now, and wondering what’s wrong with me. I tire of all of those things.
However, I remain convinced that God’s word in the Bible is true, and I am determined to cling to it. My life, my struggles, my circumstances have changed over the years, but God has not. Neither has his word.
So this is a plea to my dear Christian sisters who are single but would love to be married: don’t stop trusting God. Endure through your sadness. Don’t let Satan get to you with his subtle lies, which come from all directions. Don’t find yourself believing them without even realizing it.
(A quick note: I’m deliberately addressing this to women who aren’t married but would like to be. What I say will not apply equally to all single people, so please take whatever you find helpful from this article even if it’s not really written for you.)
Here are just some of the lies Satan tells us all the time.
Lie 1: You’re single because you’re…
You can finish the sentence yourself—just insert your adjective of choice. For me, it varies from ‘fat’ to ‘ugly’ to ‘horrible’, depending on the day. But I can think of so many friends who are beautiful in the world’s eyes, who are lovely, funny, kind, delightful… and single. So many. People of all shapes, sizes and personalities are single, and people of all shapes, sizes and personalities are married. What is attractive to one is not attractive to another. Shape, size, and personality are not why I’m single.
In the Western world at least, more and more people are marrying later in life or not at all. I may be single, but I’m certainly not alone. This isn’t because the human race is producing uglier or more horrible people, but because of a raft of social changes we’ve seen over the past century.
But God is more powerful than any social force or trend. The fact is that ultimately I’m single because God is in control of everything. He is sovereign. Likewise, those who are married are married because God is sovereign. Those who are widowed are widowed because God is sovereign. God is more powerful than our social situations, our looks, our personalities, and our insecurities.
Lie 2: God is not powerful enough to find you a husband
The older I get, the easier it is to believe this lie (which is closely related to the first). When I was younger, thinner and less cynical, it was easy to imagine that God would send a husband along for me. Who wouldn’t love me? I was amazing back then! But the longer I remain unchosen (and that’s certainly how it feels), the easier it is to think that God’s power can’t reach this part of my life.
But I need to remember that in fact I am not unchosen. God himself has chosen me. And at the risk of stating the obvious, if God can create the universe just by speaking (Genesis 1); if he can cause Pharaoh to let the Israelites go (Exodus 12); if he can raise Jesus Christ from the dead (Luke 24); if he can use the purposes of evil men for his good purposes (Acts 2:22-24); if he can give us new life and change us from people who hate him to people who want to serve him (1 Peter 1); if he can—well, do I need to list every event in the Bible? If God can do all this, then he can find me (and you) a husband, easily.
This doesn’t mean “there’s someone just around the corner for you”, or that God will provide you with a husband. It just means that if you are single it’s not because God is too powerless to marry you off to someone.
Lie 3: You’re single because God does not love you
Most of us know this can’t really be true. We know that God is love (1 John 4:8). We know he sent his own Son to die on the cross for the sins of sinful people. We know all that.
But have we stopped believing it?
Our world is decaying because of sin, and there is sickness, tragedy and sadness everywhere. We have all kinds of reasons to doubt God’s love for us if the only thing we have to go on is what we can see around us. But we are such finite beings. We see so little. We “do not know the work of God who makes everything” (Eccl 11:5). So we must look to the cross. The facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the same now as they were when we first believed. If God sent his own Son to die that horrific death in your place so that he can be in relationship with you, and if he did this while you were still a sinner (Rom 5:6-11), then maybe you don’t need to doubt his love for you.
And if you cannot see God’s love on the cross, why do you think you will see it in a man—especially a sinful man?
What happened on the cross is a much bigger and better demonstration of God’s love than providing a husband.
Lie 4: Because no-one has married you, you have no value
I’ve spoken to a number of single friends who genuinely think they have nothing to offer. They think the fact that no man has chosen them for a wife is a reflection on them, and that it means they can’t possibly have any value. I suppose it is just another expression of that age-old sin of thinking our value comes from how other people see us.
At this point, I’m tempted to talk about how much single people can offer the world around them. I’m tempted to tell you about one of my friends, who thinks she does not matter to anyone yet gives up her time week after week to help out with youth group. Or another friend, who cannot tell me a single positive thing about herself but who is often quite thoughtfully supportive of her friends and family. I’m tempted to talk about all the ways in which we single people can contribute to the lives of those around us. But that would suggest that our value comes from what we do, which is just as bad as thinking that our value comes from what other people think of us!
No. Someone marrying you will not make you valuable. Doing things for other people will not make you valuable. You cannot be made valuable, because you already are valuable. You are valuable because God Almighty himself tenderly created you—in his own image, no less! You were valuable the minute God wrote your days in his book (Ps 139:13-16), and nothing that happens to you in this life can change that.
Lie 5: Getting married will fix all your problems
This is probably the lie that I wrestle with the most, mentally. I swing wildly from knowing it isn’t true to thinking it is. When I’m looking for a new flatmate, I think that marriage would mean I wouldn’t have to keep finding people to live with. I could just get used to my husband, and that would be it. I could also afford to buy property, so I wouldn’t have to worry about when or if my landlord might ask me to leave.
It is true that marriage is a solution to some problems, some of the time. Marriage can be an answer to loneliness. It might mean I can buy my own home. But this particular lie is one of those clever half-truths, where the truth makes it harder to see the lie.
There is actually no guarantee that marriage will fix loneliness. Some married people are incredibly lonely, trapped in awful marriages with no-one to talk to about it. And getting married is no guarantee that I’ll never have to find someone to live with again, or that I’ll be able to buy property and have more security. My husband might die soon after we’re married; our house might burn down. Those are tragic examples but even if things like that don’t happen, I’m sure the picture I have in my head of what marriage will be like is probably very different from what it would actually be like. Paul doesn’t talk about the “anxieties” and “worldly troubles” of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 without good reason. Jesus’ own disciples clearly recognize the difficulties of marriage. When Jesus tells them that “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery”, they say, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matt 19:9-10)!
I’m not saying marriage is bad—as the apostle Paul would say, by no means! Marriage is a wonderful gift from God, and I’m absolutely delighted when my friends get married. I’d love to get married myself. But we must not fall into the trap of thinking that marriage will fix all our problems. It won’t.
Lie 6: You’ve got to find The One
This is the dumbest idea in the history of dumb ideas. Seriously. Thank you so much, Hollywood, with all your stupid rom-coms, for helping Satan blind us with this lie.
While it is true that God knows whether we will marry and whom we will marry, there is absolutely no way that we can know. Unless God himself gives you a name or hands you a photograph, you simply cannot know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether you’ve found the ‘right’ person. All you can do is pray, make a wise decision, trust God, and then be faithful to your marriage promises.
I’m not saying you should marry any old person as long as they’re Christian, available and breathing. I’m not saying there’s no place for physical attraction and romance—Song of Songs would contradict me if I were. What I am saying is that in your desire to get married, don’t look for ‘the one’; instead, look for someone who produces the fruit of the Spirit. Look for someone who loves Jesus. Learn from the fact that many in arranged marriages grow to deeply love each other; and don’t expect that you’ll feel wobbly in the knees as soon as you lay eyes on your future husband. Ask God for a husband, but also ask him to change your desires so that you will be open to the advances of a godly man, should they come.
Lie 7: A single person has no family
To be honest, at this stage in my life I don’t feel much temptation to believe this lie. By the grace of God, both my parents are still alive and well, together with their respective spouses and a bunch of half- and step-siblings. But sometimes I wonder what it will be like when I’m much older. In my less trusting moments, I am afraid of getting old and lonely and having no-one to look after me. I’m sure many married people share this fear. As the late (and lifelong single) John Chapman pointed out, at least 50% of married people will face singleness again when their spouse dies.
Chappo taught me to change the way I think about family. In a sermon he gave many years ago in his home church, he pointed out that our Christian family supersedes our biological family, just as it did for Jesus (see Matt 12:46-50; 19:27-29).1 Chappo then said, “I am not going to be anybody’s grandfather… but in this family [indicating the congregation] I should expect lots of grandchildren… You and I are bound together in a family that takes precedence against our biological family.”2 Chappo’s expectations were well and truly met—during his last few days in this life, he had so many visitors to his hospital bed that one of the hospital staff commented, “He must have a big family!” What a moving testament to the blessing of being part of God’s family.
As children of God, we are part of a massive family. The challenge for all of us, in our individualistic culture, is to act like it.
Lie 8: It’s better to marry a non-Christian than stay single for life
Even though God’s family is huge, we’re all sinful and sometimes we do a terrible job of loving each other. Singleness can be a very painful and lonely experience. Some decide it’s better, in the end, to marry an unbeliever. Perhaps you are toying with this idea yourself at the moment.
Let me tell you, slowly so you hear me: It. Is. Not. Worth. It.
I know many women married to unbelieving men. Some of these women did not become Christian until after they got married. Others were Christian and married a non-Christian. Others have watched their Christian husbands walk away from Jesus. But not one of them would recommend choosing to marry a non-Christian while you still have a choice to make. Not one. Not the women who still trust Jesus, anyway. And here’s why.
If you marry a man who doesn’t know and love Jesus, here are your options:
- You will eventually walk away from Jesus yourself, as he becomes less and less important and relevant in your life and your husband becomes more important. And when you walk away from Jesus, you will have exchanged heaven for hell.
- Or you will keep trusting Jesus, but it will be difficult and lonely in at least some respects. I know a dear Christian lady whose husband no longer professes Christ, although he once did. But he’s happy for her to go to church, and he’s happy for her to give money to church (as long as he can spend the equivalent on whatever he likes!), and he loves her. As far as being married to an unbeliever, it’s about as good as you can get. But every week, she goes to church and Bible study on her own. She can’t share the most important part of her life with the man she loves. And, saddest of all, unless something changes between now and when her husband dies, she cannot look forward to standing with him before the throne of God in heaven for all eternity. He is going to another place.
- Or perhaps—perhaps—God will have mercy on you and save your husband once you’re married. But when you marry a non-Christian I think you probably make it harder for him to take Jesus seriously. Why would he, when you’re not taking Jesus seriously yourself? Of course, God is more powerful than your bad example, and he could still save your husband. But you have no guarantee that he will, and it’s certainly not something you can demand. Given the previous two options, why take the risk?
My dear sisters, if you are tempted to seek solace with a non-Christian, please don’t. Don’t even flirt with the idea. Don’t get into a situation where you will get emotionally involved and find it hard to think straight. Determine that you won’t give in to this temptation—even, or especially, if you don’t feel the temptation right now—and stick to your guns.
My favourite Jane Eyre quote springs to mind here. The man she loves is trying to persuade her to abandon her moral convictions and live with him, even though he already has a wife. She responds by saying:
“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? … Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by; there I plant my foot.”3
Lie 9: It’s too hard to be single and you can’t keep on going
During the past couple of years, I’ve had two very sad conversations. One friend told me she isn’t sure how long she can keep going if she remains single. Another friend, when I mentioned this conversation to her, said, “I can relate”. For them, single life is just too hard and too lonely.
To be perfectly frank, part of me wants to just shake them and tell them to look around—there are harder things than being single. Personally, I’d rather stay single for life than go through divorce. Let’s not become blasé to the pain of divorce just because it’s so common. My heart breaks for women whose husbands have died. Some families live daily with incredible heartache and struggle because of illness or disability or poverty or tragedy. I think their struggles would be much harder than mine.
I also want these women to see how much they do have. They have good jobs. They have plenty of clothes, money and food. They are both in the top 2% of earners worldwide. They both have comfortable places to live—one has even managed to buy herself a unit.
But that’s not really the point. We each have our struggles, even if they aren’t as ‘bad’ as someone else’s. The grief of singleness is real and valid, and it comes from a very normal and healthy desire to be married. What we need is God, and the perspective that comes from reading his word.
Do you know how many calls there are in the New Testament to persevere and endure? No, neither do I—but it’s approximately a lot.4 This suggests that following Jesus in this world for a long time is not going to be easy. It may actually get even harder between now and when you meet him face to face. This is why I think there are also so many descriptions in the New Testament of the amazing things God has given us in Christ.5 We need to keep remembering what they are, because we forget so easily, and they are a big part of the motivation to endure anything and everything for the sake of Jesus who died for us. 2 Peter 1:3-12 puts it perfectly:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.
It is not too hard to be single—even for life. You can keep going, because God has given you everything you need. Don’t let Satan convince you otherwise.
Let us not be victims
Dear sisters, let’s not be victims of Satan’s attacks. Let us not dare to be dissatisfied with all that the God of the universe has lovingly given us. Let us trust God in all areas of life, including this one. Let’s not be those who say to the God who will judge the living and the dead, “Give me what I want, or we’re through”.
For what they are worth, here are a few suggestions—not rules or commands—to help you endure.
- If your convictions feel a little shaky, figure out what it is that you’re not sure about, and go and do something about it. Read a Gospel. Read a book about Jesus’ death and resurrection.6 Work out what you’re not sure about, and talk about it with someone you trust.
- If you’ve stopped reading God’s word regularly, find someone to read it with you.
- Find someone at church who you can help—maybe there’s someone who could do with a home-cooked meal at the moment. If there are gaping empty lonely holes in your life, fill them up with serving your family. It honestly does help.
- Remember that you are not a powerless victim. You have the Holy Spirit. You have a Father God who made the entire universe, and who loves you, and who really does know what is best for you. Put 2 Peter 1:3-12 on your bedroom wall and read it every day.
- Find some way to be thankful for what you have. Keep a diary and write down one or two things each day for which you are grateful. Better yet: tell other people about them. You’ll remind yourself, and you’ll encourage others. Win-win!
- If you live on your own and you find yourself feeling constantly lonely, consider sharing with one or two others. I know this sounds abhorrent to some, especially if you’re used to living on your own. Living with others is hard, even if you all get on well. You have to compromise and you’re not in control of your environment. But being in a home with other people, even if you’re all in different rooms and not actually conversing, is very different to being in a home on your own. I genuinely don’t get lonely, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t live on my own.
Let me finish by saying that if you’re single because you’re Christian—that is, you have turned down advances from unbelievers, or you struggle with same-sex attraction but you know that’s not God’s will and so you remain celibate—then let me say thank you and well done. You are a godly example and an encouragement, and I praise God for you.
- You can find the text of Chappo’s sermon in Michael Orpwood’s book Chappo: For the Sake of the Gospel, Eagleswift Press, 1995, pp. 187-93. It’s a very encouraging read. ↩
- Orpwood, pp. 189-90. ↩
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Third Norton Critical Edition, Norton, New York, 2001, pp. 270-1. ↩
- E.g. Matt 10:22, 24:13; Luke 21:19; Rom 5:3-4, 15:4-5; 1 Cor 10:13, 13:7; 2 Cor 1:6; Eph 6:18; Col 1:11; 2 Thess 1:4; 2 Tim 2:12, 24; Heb 10:36, 12:1-17; James 1; 1 Pet 2:18-25; Jude 17-21; Rev 1:9, 14:6-13. ↩
- E.g. Rom 4:7-8; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 2 Cor 8:9; Gal 3:10-14; Eph 2:1-22; 3:1-6; Titus 3:3-6; 1 Pet 1:3-5, 2:9-10; 2 Pet 1:3-4. ↩
- Stan Telchin’s Betrayed is brilliant (and short). He’s a Jewish man who gets so angry when his daughter converts to Christianity that he decides to prove to her that Jesus is not the Messiah. He looks at all the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and then looks at how many of them Jesus fulfils… and he becomes a Christian. ↩