According to a US Congregational Life Survey from 2008-2009, the gender gap of churchgoing evangelical Protestants is the highest compared to other church denominations. Out of 18-29 year old never-marrieds, 59% are female and 41% are male. In the 30-39 category, the difference jumps to 73% female with 27% male! Note that the survey does not touch the topic of true salvation or spiritual maturity, but it still offers us a glimpse of a very sad reality. If every single woman in evangelical churches made a hard and fast vow against being unequally yoked, our generation is a time where God has chosen to give the gift of singleness to a much higher percentage of women than men. To the single church-going female reading that, I probably just said something you would rather remain ignorant of. Yet, I am guessing these statistics serve to confirm something you already suspicioned. The gloomy truth, not just for females, but for the Church in general, is that more and more men are choosing not to attend church.
This scenario can have several outcomes. Christian women who desire marriage may feel the need to settle for nominal Christians or worse, settle for spouses outside the church. Also, much like several dramas that unfolded at my 2 to 3 ratio Christian college, disunity can easily erupt among young women who compete to land the limited single godly men in their sphere. Additionally, many solid, Christ-following females feel they are overlooked, since the quality men seem too distracted to see the quiet old-fashioned pearls that refuse to assume the role of the pursuer. Okay, so that last point was a personal feeling that may have spontaneously jumped onto the page, but I think it is nevertheless a sentiment shared by many.
So, what is a single gal to do? How do we prepare ourselves for the earthly future that most of us want, while also not setting ourselves up for discontentment should perpetual singleness and virginity be our God-ordained lot? I think acceptance of the answer to this question is going to first require an understanding of our calling in the Kingdom, a reality check on what earthly marriage is, as well as some benefits of singleness.
The Kingdom Call
I think a lot of us live and do ministry in such a way that even though we are single, we pretend to be divided. The decisions we make, the careers we take on, and the spiritual growth we pursue can all be more influenced by the possibility of Mr. Right coming along than the possibilities of what we can do for God’s Kingdom. Have you ever been tempted to not gain too much spiritual knowledge because you are worried your spiritual growth could be intimidating to a potential suitor? Have you found yourself thinking in terms of plan A and plan B: marriage being plan A and plan B being the lesser, unappealing alternative? Have you ever thought about death and subconsciously pleaded with God to let you experience marriage before He calls you home? In order to be effective for the Kingdom, we need to understand that whether or not God provides a male partner-in-crime, our highest joy will be working for God, not alongside a spouse or as a soccer mom. We are so conditioned to the deceitful concept that earthly marriage is the only highlight in life, and it is holding a lot of us singles back from what we could be doing for the Kingdom. Sisters, we must fight against this fallacy!
Now, I realize that I just said that the highest joy will not be found in getting married or having kids, but I am going to completely contradict myself and say that it absolutely is! God’s kingdom is all about marriage and expanding your family. Before you think I have completely lost my mind, let me explain. Earthly marriage is not the point, but eternal marriage between Christ and His Church is. In the same way, earthly child-bearing is not the main point, but growing God’s eternal family with spiritual re-birth is. Our attraction toward these earthly kinds of relationships is supposed to point us to the heavenly kind, and any participation or exposure to the earthly kind should help us to relish and pursue the timeless kind more. In the second chapter of this book, you might remember the defense I made for saying that we are all technically married as Believers, but I will address the part about having spiritual kids now.
Something that really helped me think through the Kingdom call for singles was a sermon by John Piper titled “Singleness in Christ: A Name Better Than Sons and Daughters.” His sermon was based on a book by Barry Dunylak, called Redeeming Singleness. I highly recommend either, but I will do my best to summarize them in this paragraph. The premise of these two resources is that singleness is a more valuable status in the New Covenant. If you look at the Old Testament, you see marriage and child-bearing as a must for building God’s Kingdom within His chosen people group, Israel. However, you also see glimpses of a future method in places like Isaiah 54:1, where it says “the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married”. This prophecy would not have made any sense to the Israelites at the time, but makes perfect sense in light of the new covenant, in which God’s kingdom grows by regeneration through faith. Married Christian women nowadays are not guaranteed that their children will join the Kingdom, but all Believers can make disciples and have spiritual children. Since a single woman’s time is not divided by a husband and biological kids, she is freer to make more disciples and have more children than a married woman with a full house!
Does that truth bring joy to your heart? There are thousands of unsaved kids of all ages in your city and around the world waiting to be adopted into God’s family. They need a spiritual mother to tell them the Gospel and then disciple them. If you do not have any spiritual children yet, start in your church with a younger age-group. There is an abundance of opportunities in youth ministry, with today’s confusing culture and overwhelming abundance of broken homes. Or perhaps you have been called to missions. Plenty of missionaries like David Brainerd or Gladys Alyward or Apostle Paul himself were able to answer God’s call to make disciples effectively, in part due to the fact that they were single. Disciple-making parenthood does not need to start with a marriage license, and I hope this is something we can become passionate about, whether we are single for a season or an epoch.
Sanctification is no easy task, as it involves a lot of pruning. In God’s toolshed, marriage is arguably the sharpest tool available, since it involves not just your issues, but your spouse’s as well, owing to the unique vulnerability of sharing life with a sin-tainted human. Poll anyone who has exited the honeymoon phase of their marriage, and they will tell you that marriage can be pretty difficult at times. There are a lot of blessings in being able to share life with someone, and Proverbs even says that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” However, later on, in Proverbs 21:9 and Proverbs 25:24, it basically says that it is better to live in a corner of the roof than inside a house with a quarrelsome wife.
What is needed, especially for single women, is a balanced view of marriage. I said it before in the chapter on fear, but singles do not have the monopoly on loneliness and misery. Tony Evans, in his book Living Single, says “The only thing more painful than being single and miserable is being married and miserable.” A couple pages later, he makes a striking analogy: “Let me ask you a question by first making a statement. Statistics tell us that roughly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce in America. A large part of that other 50 percent stay together for convenience, finances, or the children. Here is my question: If 50 percent of all airplanes crashed, wouldn’t you be extra careful about flying? If you knew that one out of every two airplanes was going to go down in flames, don’t you think that you would do a real careful investigation before getting in a plane, simply because you wouldn’t want to be one of those casualties? The same answer should hold true for how you approach the potential of marriage.” As outrageous as this parallel may be, it does put things in perspective. If marriage is such a minefield, then why do we line up like it’s Black Friday, and sulk if we can’t get in?
We are in desperate need of a reality check. Marriage is not the only club with bouncers. Believe it or not, married people have moments where they wish they were single again. Married women with kids do not get as many lazy days as we do. Think about those Saturdays where we can sleep in, stay in our pajamas, and curl up with a book, undisturbed as long as we want. No early-riser children to tend to, no husband to serve by stepping up your hygiene practices a bit, and no other schedules to worry about. We have freedoms in this phase that we may or may not always have, and I think it’s important to contemplate them in times of longing for something else.
Consider, also, the spiritual ramifications of marriage. Friends of mine who married young have a bigger uphill battle, and will talk about how much more difficult it is to find time and the will to make Christ their priority. One of the most amazing gifts that singleness has offered me is a chance to get to know Christ and make Him my foundation without the temptation of idolizing a husband and trying to find my satisfaction and ultimate comfort in him. There is something so sweet about confronting each new trial or decision with an attitude that can say, “Ok God, just you and me…let’s do this!” If you are single, relish those moments where it’s just you and God enjoying a sunset, watching ocean waves, or even wrestling with a decision or trial in the middle of a sleepless night. A day may come when these luxuries come at a higher cost.
My goal with this “reality check” is not to taint your view of marriage and join the modern cynics movement but to simply show that the grass isn’t always greener. Marriage is a good thing to desire and is one of God’s most beautiful creations, especially when lived out in a real Gospel-centered way. But the benefits it offers come at a cost to some underrated freedoms that we possess as singles. In her book, Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot said, “If you are married, then accept that. Accept the husband that God has given you. If you are single, accept your singleness and take it as if today was the last day of your life. Don’t be looking constantly to the future. I remember what Jim [her husband, missionary, and eventual martyr] wrote to me in one of his letters: ‘Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.’ And I think there are a lot of single women who are allowing their longing to slay the appetite of their living. They are not throwing their heart and soul into the will of God for today, because they are simply dying inside for something that God has not given them.” May we seek to live faithfully and joyfully in the status God has us in now!
Two Birds, One Stone
Ladies, I feel the need to just have a little heart to heart for a bit. I have had many conversations with single women who are so burdened by their singleness that it casts shadows over everything else in their life. And I have been there; from time to time, I still dip into that mindset. We have been told sentiments all their lives like “If God put that desire in your heart, then He will make it happen!” or “Just find contentment where you are and when you least expect it, God will bring you your missing man.” And I think that at least on some level, we understand that these are extra-biblical sentiments constructed to make us feel better, but are not grounded in reality. Yet, we hold on to them, hoping they will be the case for us. We think that even if our view of singleness is a little flawed, it will be okay as long as we eventually get married.
The problem with that line of thinking is, well, everything. If your view of singleness is flawed, then your view of marriage will be equally as flawed and absolutely will effect married life. If you idolize marriage now, believing that it will fulfill your deepest longings, you will idolize marriage when you are married. The discontentment that followed you around while you were single will follow you down the aisle into matrimony. It may take on different forms, perhaps morphing into a desire for children, a desire for an altered husband, or eventually perhaps wishing for singleness again. So what do we do? How do we fix our view of singleness in such a way that we still leave ourselves open for the possibility of marriage?
The solution might sound counter-intuitive, but pay attention: the key to prepare for whatever the future holds is to not think about the future. Jesus told us to “not be anxious about tomorrow,” but to instead “seek first the Kingdom of God.” All we know is what God is doing here and now, and here and now, you are single. What does God want you to do while you are still single? Well, He’s certainly not waiting for you to get married before He gives you more valuable tasks!
Nevermind the future. If we are meant to be perpetually single, then all we produce by being anxious about marriage is perpetual anxiety this side of heaven! I don’t want that, and I’m sure you don’t! But here’s the beautiful part: whether or not God has it in His plan for you to get married, faithfully following Him will get you there. Two birds, one stone. Using your gifts in the here and now, seeking Christ and living in light of His gospel will prepare you for a life of singleness or a life of partnering with a brother in Christ, if it be willed by the Father.
I must at this point warn you of a catch. It would be easy to take what I just said and verbally acknowledge the truth in it, but keep your motivations for godliness the same. In other words, you could say, “Sure Rachelle, I understand that this road I’m on (or at least trying to stay on) will get me to whatever future God has, whether I (‘gulp!’) stay singly apart of God’s Kingdom or (‘sigh’ longingly) meet the man of my dreams.” And yet, secretly, underneath the surface, your motivations for pursuing God’s kingdom are stuck in the ditch of mate attraction. We like that we get to serve God, but if you are prideful like me, it’s especially nice to think of how godliness and service can look to an available godly male. We hope they’ll see how good we are with kids, how well we hostess church gatherings, and how brightly our halos glow.
Ladies, what if we were so concerned with Kingdom affairs that revealed interest by an eligible godly bachelor caused us not to dive in heart first, but to instead question if God’s hand was behind it? What if we sought a niche in the Church where we got to experience true joy by serving God’s people in a way that we wouldn’t be able to if we were married? What if our motives for service and growth were truly rooted in a desire to know Christ better and see His Kingdom come? How my heart longs for you all to become passionate about using your singleness for the Kingdom! Stop treating your life like marital purgatory, waiting to be good enough or ready enough to get in! Want to know a secret? No one is ever perfectly ready for anything, including marriage! I don’t feel qualified for any of the things God has allowed me to participate in, but He loves it when we are dependent because He can get the glory from success bred out of broken people answering His call on their lives. Does singleness seem like a task too tough to bear? Good. You, my friend, have an amazing training course ahead of you in dependence.
To paraphrase John Piper at the end of his singleness sermon, demanding marriage on top of the spiritual blessings we have been given is like God telling us, “I am giving you the OCEAN”, and us replying, “Can I have a thimble, too?” It is all about perspective. In the moments where you find yourself embittered towards the Father over your singleness, rehearse the Gospel. When you find it hard to be happy for another engaged or pregnant friend, remind yourself of what you have in Christ as an heiress in His Kingdom. When you get badgered for the billionth time about not being married yet, remember that Christ Himself walked in your single shoes, in a culture that emphasized marriage even more so than ours.
To close this letter to my single sisters, I will leave you with a poem. As you read it, consider the following: What roots of bitterness do I need to confess? What fears are holding me back from living as I have been called? Lastly, how amazing is it that despite our shortcomings, we get to have a relationship with the Ruler of the Universe?
My motives are muddied, some words insincere,
My heart often riddled with all kinds of fear.
And nothing is hidden from the King of all time,
My thoughts all laid bare before what’s Divine.
So why is this child approaching the throne?
Her dirty footprints are treason alone!
Whispers of scandal should course through the room,
As the trespasser stands awaiting her doom.
But not a word is uttered, no guards called to arms,
The child’s face shows no sign of alarm.
What could excuse? What could explain?
But a Savior who on her behalf has been slain!
To the right of the Father sits the Heir of all things,
The one through whom salvation sings!
See Him descend in His powerful grace
To speak to the child face-to-face.
She knows His voice, she’s heard it before,
And the words He begins to say once more:
“My beloved I bought you at the price of my grave.
But even death could not hold me a slave.
My victory is permanent. My Gospel is true!
And with it my plan is to shape you anew.
Continue to follow, continue to trust.
My Word will protect you from doubt, pride, and lust.
Your future is sure, do not lose sight.
All darkness will soon be brought to light.
And until the day I call you home, strive to rally at this throne.”
Onlookers revel in the awe of the scene,
As the child repents and walks away clean.
Thanks for tagging along on this 6 week journey! I may post more from time to time, but you have heard everything I’ve got so far on the topic of singleness. Since starting my personal journey of seeking out a more Gospel-centered view of singleness almost exactly a year ago, I have gained a higher view of marriage along with a more contented outlook on where God has me. I hope that for the singles who have been reading along, the same is true for you. For everyone else, I hope you are better enabled to interact with and encourage the single Believers in your life. And for everyone as a whole, I hope the Gospel looks just a little more glorious than it did 6 weeks ago.
 “Gender Gap in Church Persists; Worse among Evangelicals.” Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. Web. 2 January 2015.
 Piper, John. “Singleness in Christ: A Name Better than Sons and Daughters.” Marriage, Christ, and Covenant: One Flesh for the Glory of God. Bethlehem Baptist Church. 29 April 2007, Minneapolis, MN. Podcast.
 Evans, Tony. Living Single. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2013. Print. p. 25.
 Evans, p. 27.
 Elliot, Elisabeth. Passion and Purity. Ada: Revell, 2002. Print. p. ???