I’ve been married 23 years, I am in my mid-40’s, and…I don’t have children. Often I find myself relating to the plight of singles in the church setting. Singles can feel marginalized, overtly or subtly, by the church. Those married without children can experience similar frustration. While marriage and children are certainly good things, they can be idolized by the church. Good things can indeed become idols.
When marriage and children are idolized, where does this leave singles and those married without kids? They can be made to feel defective, less, not complete or whole….while they wait for that spouse or child to come along. Yet, as believers, we are complete and whole and accepted in Christ – regardless of our marriage or parenthood status.
And what if that spouse or child never comes along? While marriage and children may be the norm for many, it is not the norm for everyone. The apostle Paul extolled the virtues and benefits of singleness, and Paul remained single. Paul emphasized in Corinthians the importance of being content with our life circumstances, particularly in regards to our married or unmarried state. A good deal of freedom is given in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 when it comes to personal decisions about such matters. What is “right” for one may not be right for another. Some should marry, while others can handle singleness. Etc.
I often wonder if Priscilla and Aquila had children, and I like to think (pure speculation) that they did not have them. They traveled around to various churches, with and without Paul, and were committed to teaching the gospel. This ability would have been difficult with children in tow, and they seemed to have freedom to move about. But again, just speculation on my part.
An influential church in my area recently had a series on marriage and singleness, and some things about it showed up in my social media feed. (I already know I have disagreement with this church’s approach to gender roles. I review their book on femininity here.)
In regards to the current series, one person who attends this church made a good comment about contentment, and then shared the church teaching meme of 1 Corinthians 7:32, after which the meme explanation stated:
“Your singleness isn’t about you. Just like your future marriage is not supposed to be about you either. How are you using your current season of singleness to serve God and others?”
Ugh. This immediately bothered me. Do you see it? I can appreciate an emphasis on contentment and taking advantage of circumstances in our lives.
But the wording of referring to it as a “season” and the mention of “future marriage” is the problem.
Referring to singleness as a temporary season can create or contribute to discontent by the assumption that marriage is always the goal or endgame for everyone. It is not. Some people may always be single, and some married couples may never have kids – for a wide variety of reasons. It also infers that singles are incomplete, waiting for that special person to complete them.
[By the way, several years ago I had a brief conversation with the lead pastor at this church, and the idea that some may not ever marry – or may marry but not have kids – was NOT seen as an option by this pastor. These are temporary seasons only. Well, where does this leave me and my spouse? There is clearly no place for us at this church.]
And seriously, do you see the inconsistency and contradiction with attempting to make singles feel content while at the same time referring to their singleness as only temporary? Are we prone to be content if we are constantly looking for present circumstances to end? Umm, that’s not contentment. Contentment is a state of having accepted one’s situation. And isn’t it ironic to do this while using the teaching of Paul – who remained single and extolled its virtues?!
The church as a whole needs to get better at honoring those who are single or married without kids…of highlighting them and their ministries.
A friend of my family recently died. She was 92 and a life-long single. Even though I only saw this woman occasionally, I will miss her spunk! I loved the way the eulogy described her:
“…She was a conversationalist who cared for others. She had a mind of her own and an independent spirit….Please don’t misunderstand. She wasn’t resisting authority, or tradition; nor was she defiant…What I saw in her was a refusal to conform to the world’s standards or other’s expectations. She was firm in her stand as a follower of Christ and was not easily persuaded by whims. I saw in her a woman who was steadfast in her convictions and unwavering in her calling to walk with Christ.”
Highlighting such positive examples of the single or married without kids can be heartening and encouraging to those who may be struggling with their singleness or childless state. It is normal to desire marriage or children, and this post is not implying that all singles and marrieds without kids just need to “get over it.” Rather, the point is that we don’t make their struggle better by making them feel desperate about their situation.
Instead of focusing on whether someone is married or not, or whether they have kids or not – why can’t we just honor them for who they are? They are complete in Christ, and gifted with unique spiritual gifts for God’s Kingdom.
November 11th: adding this worthwhile article link: Single and Equal.
And more: A liberation theology for single people
Why Do Churches Treat Singleness Like a Problem?, A call for (marital status) diversity.