Over the last couple of months I have been working through Ben Stuart’s book Single, Dating, Engaged, Married and as it so happens I’ve yet to finish. Coincidentally, both my college Bible study and the students ministry I serve in are concurrently going through series on relationships which has me in a place where I wish to share my perspective and understanding on the topic. This means that I am about to lock myself into a multi-issue series on relationships, so I better see this one through to completion. Which is likely as this topic is one that I, and statistically for most, is one of great interest. Why? Because we all long for companionship. We all long to feel wanted and loved. Which take vastly different forms! Yet the focus tends to bend toward romantic relationships and as such brings us to the first section of this multipart examination of relationships. Singleness.
While I’d like to claim that everything in this post is of my own intellectual power, a large portion stems from the various accounts and examination of others. I am fortunate to be able to stand on the shoulders of great theologians, thinkers, and people to share my observations and opinions on the nature of relationships. I shall make every effort to properly cite where the ideas stem from, as to not misguide anyone whom may come across this as to thinking that these are my own ideas and summations. They’re likely not. In fact, I’ve had little to no experience in the realm of romantic relationships. I am hardly an expert or the most reliable source. However, I’ve taken the time to explore this topic and have need to share and discuss the many factors that go into our relationships. I am a content single pringle, as a friend of mine described me once, solely seeking to explore this topic.
Statistically, a large majority people want to be married. Pew Research indicates that nearly 80% of people want to be married. The median age of people getting married today is 29 for men and 27 for women respectively. Pew Research Center’s research into peoples reasoning to married are as follow: 88% for love, 81% for a lifelong commitment, 76% for companionship, 49% for having children, 30% for a religiously recognized relationship in a religious ceremony, 28% for financial stability, and 23% for legal rights and benefits (8 Fact about Love and Marriage in America). These statistics reveal a great deal about the majority of people. According to a 2016 study, half of people aged 18 and older were married (however, the means in which this is worded is slightly deceiving and misleading as 18 and up included a very large swath of people of different ages.). Additionally, the number of people cohabitation, people who are not married but are living together, has been on the rise in recent years. Finally, the number of people looking to find love online has increased considerably. What these numbers indicate is that people are looking for love. However, for the Christian, the dating world has become more murky and unclear.
Ben Stuart introduces his book by explaining a tradition of Texas A&M university where they, being students of A&M which I am not, would go to Kyle Field at midnight to practice the cheers and chants for the football game the next day. However, once they would finish rehearsing, the lights would go out and, at least according to Stuart, they would makeout with the person they brought with them. If you didn’t bring anyone, then you’d hold up a lighter (old school, I know) and someone would come and find you. Secondly, Stuart continues by discussing his time as the leader of Breakaway Ministries through which he and his team asked their students who wanted to release the burden of guilt and shame to write down some of their secrets on cards. Going through them, Stuart was surprised by the amount of people expressing hurt and heartbreak that accompanied romantic relationships that had gone wrong. Which is where I begin, beginning with the season of singleness.
I absolutely adore the photo above, it serves as my computer’s wallpaper. Taken just a few months ago when myself and many of my friends served in a Discipleship Now weekend at our church. I love this picture for many reasons and it brings a smile to my face every time I look at it. These people, each and every one of them are my family! I love all of them for their many traits, personalities, skills, and willingness to put up with my endless awkwardness. Also, we were not suppose to be on top of the tomb… but I didn’t know that when I set up the camera… oops. I am blessed beyond all measure to have a community of believers who love me, each other, and love God! I rely on them to keep me accountable, to share in life, and to grow deeper in our walks with God together. On the few weeks where we are unable to gather together for worship, fellowship, and study I suffocate a little. Why? Because they are a source of life to me. All of us need a source of life and where a source of life is lacking desperation sets in. Ben Stuart emphasizes this point early on stating:
“When you have a source of life, you are a source of life. But where there is scarcity, desperation will set in. And desperation can easily become exploitation of others. If you are disconnected from a source of life, your “oxygen tank,” then you will attempt to suck life out of someone else. You will be tempted to use people to try to get your sense of self validation.” –Single, Dating, Engaged, Married (4)
Y’all, we far too easily find our sense of validation in superficial things. We cling to money, sex, entertainment to fill our sense of worth and validation. Yet, for the believer, our sense of validation comes not from this world but from God! Why? Because Christ is our source of life! Without Christ, without His sacrifice on the cross, we would be spiritually dead where we walk! No person, no thing can every fill that God-sized need in our lives! As followers of Jesus we must cling to him because he is our source of life and it is through him that we have a purpose, a reason for existing! He, Christ, is sufficient for our ever need! Do you trust that Christ loves you endlessly? Do you honestly believe it? Christ said that you were worth dying for! I’ll admit that at times it is difficult for me to believe. What did I do to deserve such perfect, true love? Nothing. When I do elevate things above God, I forget just how much I am loved and consequentially I reel back from the pain of sinning against the God who loves me beyond measure!
Through Christ we see some characteristics of love as Stuart notes: Love Sends, Love Sacrifices, and Love Stays. John gives a dense synopsis of love which speaks volumes to the extent and reach of God’s love for us!
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. -1 John 4:7-21 ESV
We know that love send because God sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. We know that love sacrifices because Christ sacrificed himself for our wrongdoing, and we know love stays because God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We know love because we know God and God is love! It is because of God that we can love one another. That we can find a family of people who are not related to us by blood like the people pictured above. God’s love is unconditional and fortunately for us it is poured out in abundance! God ought to be our source of life because God is perfect in his love, perfect in his ways, and he seeks us out! Without God, we would be so incredibly lost and hopeless in all things! There is nothing better than God, and, not to slight anyone, there is no person in this would who will ever be better than God! Y’all, we cannot get our relationship right without first getting our relationship with God right! This is the purpose of singleness: a devotion to God!
Y’all, we don’t know what the heck we want. Our desires are fleeting and changing at every moment. We do not know what is best for us nor do we fully value and appreciate the things that have already been given to us. Putting us in a season of singleness is not God trying to choke us out and it is not to hold us back or hurt us as Stuart notes. Rather singleness is, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:35 (NASB), “to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” Overall, all of us have some concept of appropriateness. Something is appropriate if it is proper given the context of the circumstances and situation. Something is inappropriate if it does not fit within the context of the circumstances. It’s the snickering of students at the inopportune moment in a sermon when everyone falls silent. It’s breaking social norms like wearing a swimsuit to a black tie event. Inappropriate things stick out because they do not fit with everything else. So what is the appropriateness of singleness? Well, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 asserts correctly that “singleness, dating, and marriage, while important, are not the main story line of [our live].” The bigger story is one that we have a very brief moment in, God’s story! “The story line of the Bible is that God is on the move, and in the midst of the darkness, God broke in with a new kingdom.”
As much as we value our lives and are deeply concerned with the immediacy of our lives they are very much just brief moments in the larger scheme of things. God’s story is one of love, of redemption, of blessing. I’ll admit that I’m quite the romantic and I love a good story. As it so happens, The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies and one that contains every campy romantic fairytale trope. By this point everyone should know about the epic tale of Princess Buttercup and the modest Wesley and their love for one another! A love that knows no ends to defy death, to defeat evil, and to restore the kingdom of Florin! God’s story is so much better than any story that can be put to paper, to film, or to legend. Thankfully, God’s story is extended to us and it reveals the lengths that God has gone to reconcile our sinful, wandering ways back to himself! That is true love! A love that doesn’t quit, it doesn’t run away. So in our singleness, that time is for us to pursue God. To experience his endless love. Our singleness gives us access to so much more without having to jump through hoops or schedules. It is in our singleness that we can most freely serve the Lord! Singleness offers freedom!
If God calls you on a mission trip to the farthest place from where you currently are, then nothing is stopping you from going. If God calls you to pursue an opportunity across the country then you are free to go without having to consider somebody else. Singleness offers freedom of time as well! To be free from distractions on the pursuit of undivided devotion to God! You are free to spend time with others, pouring out into the lives of those in need. Singleness has a purpose and we are to seize it! Singleness does not mean that we do not need to desire marriage or companionship, but rather that we are free to move when the Lord commands it. Singleness gives us opportunity to be attentive to God’s word and to his work! Between our personal time and our in the world, we have every reason to grow deeper with God and to take our knowledge and impart it onto others in need of it. How great is that? We are free in so many ways that we overlook because we’re focused on the next stage of life! God is moving here and now! He is calling us to respond with obedience in this season.
I have no idea what the Lord has in store for my life. I’ve been single every minute of it thus far. It was not until recently, meaning within the last five years or so, that I’ve had a growing desire of marriage. I’m not at that place yet. In this season of longing for someone to share in ministry with, I’ve felt the pangs of want and the fogginess of infatuation. In this time, I’ve come to understand that I am not alone and that I am surrounded by people who love me. I have a family, as pictured above, that pour out into my life and challenge me to be a more Godly individual. I have a mentor who wants nothing but good things for me and serves to challenge me not to settle. This is companionship. C.S. Lewis, the incredibly thoughtful theologian, made a case for brotherly love or Philia.
We have affection for one another outside of romantic interests perhaps expressed better as fondness or friendship. Lewis makes an interesting observation which I think helps to illustrate the path in which single people such as myself head. “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest” (The Four Loves). Friends never talk about their friendship, it just sort of blossoms over time and grows stronger as they move through life. See, friendship or companionship in this sense is sharing in life without bounds. Like the people pictured above, we are friends walking side-by-side through life toward God. Which is where the focus ought to be, on God!
See, one of the things that can easily happen in romantic relationship, which I can at least attest to through observation, is getting absorbed in infatuation for one another to the point that neither is moving toward God, but rather entirely enraptured with the other person. Their world goes from being the pursuit of God to being whomever this person they’re infatuated with. This will come up again when we begin to examine the season of dating and what its purpose is. Yet companionship is highly necessary in our lives though, as Lewis noted, we can live without it. “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. (The Four Loves).
I believe that my culture put far too much emphasis on romantic relationships that we look past the value of proper friendships. I know that I deeply appreciate everybody who crosses my path at my Bible study and that I greatly need their presence in my life. I believe that this is in part due to the calling that God has placed on my life to facilitate a place where all are welcome and freely given love. God has put a desire within me to just love on people. To those who need love, to those who have love, to those who do not want to be loved, those who are afraid of love. I have written about that here if you are interested in that. Thus that is part of my purpose in singleness. To love other and to devote my entirety to glorifying God! I am secure in God’s promise and blessing. I have no cause to strife and stress over who I am going to end up with. God has given me a community of people to love on, to encourage, to pursue him with, and to share in this life with! I have friendship which gives value to this life. I know that I have this God-sized need in my life and that no person or persons are going to be able to fill it apart from Christ. So I have no desire to waste my efforts in pursuing any woman that I come across, but rather trust that when the time is right that God will reveal her to me and that I will be able to give her my heart free from baggage and heartbreak.
I am so grateful for the community that I am apart of, because I can share God’s love with them. I can cultivate a place where all feel welcome and have a home. I do not know how to put it to words, but I love each and every person in the family of believers, pictured above, so deeply. They mean the world to me. They give value to this life as we move toward becoming more like Christ! There is no length that I would not go to meet a need that they may have, why? Because God has called us to share in this life together. To spur one another toward good works. To glorify him in everything. This is love: Not that we love, but that God loved us first. It is in God that we can love one another and it is only through God that we can ever experience true love without condition. Thus singleness is not a season without love, but a season where we must learn where love originates and cling to it with every bit of strength we can muster! This life is hardly about the pursuit of marriage or sex, but rather the pursuit of God! He is our source of life! Let us cling to him!
Grace and Peace,