A couple of weeks ago, we spoke about Singleness from 1 Corinthians 7 and how the church should do better at discipling singles in a sermon titled "It's Complicated" - Sanctifying Relationship Status. After this sermon, one of our congregants, Gareth Brady, emailed me and shared how he and his wife Robyn wanted to disciple singles in their community, as he had been someone who had experienced a prolonged season of singleness in a church community. I asked him to share this with us in a blog format, and he did. I hope this is helpful & drives us to become better disciple making disciples.
Hi, my name is Gareth, I’m 38 years old, and for the the last year I’ve been married to a beautiful, godly woman who is an absolute blessing and a precious gift to me. We got married 8 months after our first date and are thoroughly enjoying our life together as husband and wife. But for the first 37 years of my life I was single. Before my wife became my wife, she was my first girlfriend. Not only was I single for a long time, but I endured this pro-longed period of singleness within the context of several church communities.
Although there were some really close friends within some of these churches who were a blessing and an encouragement to me in my singleness, by enlarge the overwhelming sense I got from the general married contingency was that my singleness was something I needed to be cured of or something I needed to graduate from so that I could experience the wholeness of being married.It was almost like I was deemed to be forever immature until I graduated into marriage (although I do admit I was probably mostly to blame for that perception.) There were even a few suggestions that I leave the church I was in, and had helped start, because there were no apparent “prospects” for me there! Ironically, I met my wife when she came to visit one of our services after being invited by a mutual friend. It seems that God may have a sense for the ironic...or perhaps he was getting tired of me rejecting this type of advice. Obviously I think it’s the former.
Before I go on, let me say upfront that in no way do I believe these brothers and sisters in Christ were intentionally trying to belittle me or make me feel like less of a human because of my singleness. In fact I believe their advice and their concern for me in my singleness was because they loved me and wanted the best for me. The problem is, their intentions and desires for my life were not rooted in the truth and wisdom of the gospel, but in sentimentality, their own experience and possibly an idolatry of marriage. It felt like I was stuck between a world that idolized singleness as freedom while demonizing marriage as slavery and a church culture that idolized marriage as completeness and demonized singleness as incompleteness.
As I look back over the past year of my marriage, I can see the undeniable beauty of it’s design and I am undoubtedly blessed to have my wife, however it’s not more beautiful than my singleness in Christ. It’s different and it’s wonderful, but not superior.
Because of my experience of pro-longed singleness in church community I promised myself while I was still single that if I ever got married, our marriage would be one that strives to be a blessing to our single friends by looking at them through gospel lenses, treating them with dignity, affirming their wholeness in Christ and pointing them to a greater hope than earthly marriage. We may not always get it right, but we hope to.
And so here are 5 things that my wife and I, by the grace of God, will try to do as we walk alongside our single friends.
1. Give them true hope, not false hope
“I know God has someone for you.” I heard this phrase again and again as well-meaning people asked about my relationship status, or listened as I shared some of my struggles when lonliness hit hard. As my single years rolled on and I heard that phrase over and over, I started to detest it. The problem with this phrase and others like it (“I know you’ll find someone”) is not the intention, which is to comfort and give hope, but rather that the comfort is surface level and the hope is false because you can’t know for certain that it’s true. I’ve read the Bible, many times, and not once did I ever see God promise a wife to me. I appreciated that people wanted to comfort me and give me hope but directing my hope to something that God never promised was not helpful and often left me with more doubt in God’s goodness than hope.
True hope, in the absolute and present reality of all that God has promised to be for us in Christ is a far greater comfort than an uncertain hope in the uncertain reality of a spouse that has not been promised. We love people better by directing their hope to the promises of God in Christ instead of our own uncertain hope for their future.
2. Remind them of the reality of their covenant with Christ
In his book "The Mystery of Marriage", Ray Ortlund says, "We should not think that Christ and the church are the metaphor in this passage (Ephesians 5:22-33), but the reverse. Christ and the church are the reality of realities, and our Christian marriages are the metaphors." Here's the truth about believers who are single; they're already in a covenant relationship greater than marriage, experiencing a greater love and acceptance than they ever will with a spouse. We would serve them well by reminding them that what they long for in marriage with a spouse is just a shadow of the reality that they already have with Christ.
3. Affirm their wholeness in Christ
There is nothing incomplete about a single person. They are as human and as alive as a married person and they don’t need another person to complete them. That’s a lie sold by culture, not a truth you’ll find in scripture and it wreaks havoc when two people go into a marriage believing that the other person will complete them as if he/she is their saviour.
A single person in Christ can enjoy and experience life as fully as a married person can because they already have the One who completes them and the way we can help them to see this is by not seeing their primary identity as a single person but as a new creation who is as alive in Christ as we are.
4. Allow them to speak into our marriage
If it’s true that marriage is just a shadow of the ultimate and everlasting covenant between Jesus and his church, and that believers who are single are already in that covenant, being loved by Christ and submitting to Him, then what that means practically is that they would probably have some wisdom about how earthly marriages could best reflect the heavenly one that it’s patterned after. What am I saying? I’m saying, give your single friends a platform to speak into your marriage. Obviously it’s good to have an older, godly couple be able to help you walk through your marriage but don’t exclude your single friends from the joy of helping your marriage become more Christ-like just because they’re single. Afterall, there’s no “single” Holy Spirit for singles and then a “married” Holy Spirit for marrieds. We have one Spirit who’s goal is to glorify Christ and make us more like Him, whether we’re single or married. And I don’t just want to assume that my single friends know they can do this, in fact they probably think it’s out of bounds for them to offer me advice on my marriage, so I’m literally going to ask them, “hey, if you start seeing patterns in my life as a husband that are not in line with loving my wife like Christ loved His church and gave himself up for her, I’m asking you to call me out on it and to remind me of Christ’s love for me which is meant to define my love for my wife and set the purpose for our marriage”.
5. Walk with them to Jesus in their lonliness
Throughout my single years there were periods, sometimes days, sometimes months, where the lonliness hit hard and hung around like a thick dark cloud that followed me everywhere, and would often cause me to question God’s goodness to me. My heart would cry out, “where are you? Why have you forsaken me?” It was in these moments that I would need more than someone telling me, “it’s ok, you’ll find someone one day”. I needed a friend to remind me that God was nearer than I thought and like a true friend, Jesus could identify with me in the darkness of my lonliness. On the cross Jesus was rejected by those he came to love, abandoned by his closest friends and forsaken by his Father. Jesus became the lonliest person that ever lived, so that we would never be truly lonely. Through the lonliness of the cross, not only are we inseperably united to the Father, but we have a God in Christ who can fully identify with our lonliness and give us grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). When the lonliness of singleness hits hard, our friends don’t need good advice, or quick fix comfort, they need the good news of a good God who identifies with their weaknesses and walks with them in their sufferring.