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Editor’s Picks: Best of Reflections on Singleness

“Are you sure you’re not being too choosy?”

“Why are you still single, what’s wrong with you?”

“You’re not getting any younger!”

Fending off comments from well-meaning friends and relatives on your single status can be a tiring affair.

To the Friend I Tried to Evangelize

“Evangelize.” It even sounds like a dirty word, doesn’t it? An act of pushing one’s religion on another. A prideful way to tell someone they’ve got it totally wrong. That their worldview is wrong. That their beliefs are wrong. That they’ve got everything wrong, and I’ve got it right.

That’s what evangelism sounds like to you, I think. And it’s hard to respond with anything that doesn’t sound like worn sentiment. “Oh, but my God is the real one.” “I don’t haughtily push my faith on others—I share it so they can know truth.” You think everyone says that about what they believe.

But my God is different. My God is real, and is worth knowing. Though recently, I’ve learned something valuable about sharing that with you.

You won’t ever take my word for it. And maybe that’s a good thing.

As we talk about faith, you ask if I think it’s just good luck that I was born into a country where the “right” religion is the dominant one.

You ask if I’ve considered the reality that if there truly wasn’t a god, humankind would probably construct one anyway. . . just to feel better about all of the big things we can’t understand. How do I know that’s not what has happened?

You ask hard questions. And I’ve tried to give thoughtful answers. I’ve prayed for wisdom to speak, for God to lead me to answers that will sway you.

But you won’t ever take my word for it, and I’ve finally realized why.

I’ve been thinking about it totally wrong. Words aren’t what you need.

Because I don’t think reasoning and unanswered questions are what’s actually holding you back.

You need to know a God who heals.

You need a reason for all of the pain you’ve been through.

. . . a purpose worth living another day for.

You need to know the all-reaching forgiveness that you’re offered—to believe that nothing you’ve done has made you unworthy of it.

Most of all, you need to be loved—to know true love that is whole, unwavering, and given freely by grace, not based on merit.

My efforts to evangelize by providing you with logical answers can’t do that for you.

So, I’ve got to re-shape my perspective on evangelism. I have to realize that my words won’t win you over. In fact, I have to accept that, until you come to the end of yourself and turn to God, you won’t be able to see my faith as anything but foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18).

I pray that the day would come soon, friend. I often ask God to work in your life in whatever way is necessary for you to realize that Christ fulfills the deep longing you’ve been wrestling with all your life.

But I can’t will that day into coming any sooner. So, in the meantime, I’ll keep praying, and I’ll start letting my life, instead of my well-intentioned wisdom, be a testimony to you.

You can watch how I work. I hope you see someone who works tirelessly to do a job well, even in a place that doesn’t treat us how it should (Colossians 3:23).

You can watch how I speak. I hope you see someone who considers the impact of her words before she releases them, and carefully avoids ones that give space to envy, spite, anger, or self-righteousness (Matthew 12:36).

You can witness how I treat others—especially the people you know I don’t get along well with. I hope you see a person who speaks to build others up and not tear them down, who chooses unity over words that cause division (Ephesians 4:29).

You can see how I spend my time, and I hope that you see someone who cherishes it as a gift and chooses to use it to serve others in my workplace, community, and social circles (1 Peter 4:10).

But most likely, you won’t always see these things. In fact, you’ll often be the first to see my shortcomings—how I fail to do each of the things above.

But in that, I hope that you notice where I turn when I fall short. I hope that you see I am quick to acknowledge when I’m wrong, and that you’ll witness me struggling against my sinful nature, longing to act and love in a more Christlike manner. Oh, you will certainly see how I am broken, and sinful, but I hope you see just as clearly, that I turn to God to help me be someone better.

I hope you’re able to see me, and know that anything good you see is grace from the perfect God I serve.

Now, my friend, as I seek to evangelize, I won’t focus on convincing you. Instead, I’ll try to live in a way that shows you that life with God is rich and purposeful. And when I speak, I’ll share stories about a life beyond the cynicism and despair so many are focused on. I will continue to share time and conversations and meals, and I will keep praying desperately that you find the hope which will anchor your soul (Hebrews 6:19).

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Have We Missed the Point of Marriage?

The bells toll cheerily. The doors fling open and confetti swirls in the air as bride and groom emerge, all smiles and laughter. Waving goodbye, Cinderella and Prince Charming kiss as their carriage rides away into the sun.

The scene is one I can recall too easily. I’m one of those girls who grew up on Disney princess movies, rom-coms, and Jane Austen. Add to that my parents’ stable marriage, and it’s hardly surprising that as I matured, a good part of life’s focus was to find my happily ever after.

It took my first spectacular romance fizzling as quickly as it started for that dream to be turned upside down.

Although I had prayed and thought I was seeking God’s guidance, the breakdown of that relationship revealed how I had been too wrapped up in a superficial idea of love. All I saw was the allure of romance.

God had to reshape any thoughts I had about relationships, and the eventual marriage I longed for—helping me see what it looks like to glorify God in all I do, including relationships and marriage.

Since that first fizzled romance, I’ve learned a bit more about love, and these are some things I would tell my younger self:

 

1. It’s not about you—or what you want

When I was in my teens, I had a list describing my ideal man. It looked pretty reasonable: Christian, diligent, tall, etc.

What I didn’t have was a list for myself—the kind of spouse I aspired to be. Instead, I was focused on who would fit my list. . . “The One” who would make me happy, who would complete me. My first boyfriend seemed to fit it, but because we both entered with self-seeking hearts, the relationship was bound to fail.

I still believe it’s good to have basic and sound standards, so that you won’t just fall for the next guy who comes with sweet words and gifts. But it shouldn’t stop there. The obvious fact I somehow missed, is that marriage is made up of two persons. It is as much about the other person as it is about me.

So, I began to look beyond personal wants and considered how I could honor God in the way I related to my potential future spouse. How could I give and not just receive?

 

2. It’s about loving without conditions

I learned what we can give is love. I don’t mean the eros, romance kind of love, although that is important. But the love that sustains the day-to-day of living with someone else is the God kind of love that is unconditional and enduring. This agape love will help build the relationship on eternal values and root it firmly in God.

When God rebuilt my view on marriage, He taught me how to love others with no condition. I’ll be honest—for a long time, all I saw in guys was “potentials” and whether any of them would “suit” me.

But when I joined my university’s Christian Fellowship, God opened my eyes to see that they are first and foremost my brothers. That’s when I learned to be a true friend. To listen, to support and encourage, to forgive and give grace—to seek the interests of another with no selfish intent (Philippians 2:1-4).

Of course, I applied this to my fellow sisters, too. It’s just that loving my guy friends the right way helped deconstruct my self-absorbed perceptions, and prepared me with the right mindset when I did marry.

By the time I graduated, my view on marriage was improved, and I was also blessed with sincere and strong friendships that have lasted until today.

 

3. It’s about displaying God’s love

Marriage reflects God’s relationship with His people—it’s about learning to live with one another in love. Jesus refers to Himself as the bridegroom, and the church as the bride. Ephesians 5:25-27 clearly points out that we are to love as Christ loves the church. And since we know that Christ laid down His life for the church, that’s the same kind of love we should be practicing (John 15:13).

God then designed marriage to be the field where unconditional love is played out in a very real way. My husband and I learn this whenever one of us makes any kind of mistake. Once, we came home after a two-week break to a fridge full of molded and stinky produce. No prizes for guessing who accidentally turned the fridge off. My husband could have yelled the place down at my incompetency, and I would have deserved it. But he didn’t. He heaved a few big sighs, and then got down to cleaning the fridge.

This reflects our relationship with God. We constantly blunder, but God is slow to anger, quick to forgive, and gracious to help us get through the mess we deserved to be stuck in. If done right, marriage is one of the greatest testimonies of God’s love. If we love selflessly in a marriage, John 13:35 comes into fruition: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

A Better Purpose

Had God not reformed my thinking, I would have been unprepared for daily married life. There would have been more conflicts, and ironically, much less happiness if my husband and I were seeking only our personal interests.

Yes, there is happiness in marriage, which we celebrate. But there is so much more than the Cinderella kind of happiness. Francis and Lisa Chan had this to say in their book, You and Me Forever:

This is the mistake a lot of couples make. They spend a lot of time looking at themselves and each other but very little time staring at God. When this is the focus, they naturally begin to structure every aspect of their lives around the few years they have with each other on earth, rather than the millions they will spend in His presence. Or away from His presence. These people live as though they are not dying. They live as though the King is not returning.

This is how I now view marriage: It’s a call to live with another person in love, built on a goal to glorify God in every single thing we do, and firmly rooted in God so that our joy comes from things that are eternal.

That’s the true happily ever after.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the last in a 3-part series on relationships. Check out the first two articles, “What Should I Be Looking for in Dating?”  and “Should I Stay Single?” for more perspectives.

Should I Stay Single?

It was my first real relationship. After it became clear that we weren’t compatible, I decided to end it. The only problem was I had never been in a serious relationship before, and the thought of breaking up with someone terrified me. So I did what any immature and scared guy would do—I broke up with her on the phone. I know; not cool. But don’t worry, it gets worse.

With the guilt of hurting her weighing on my heart like a ton of bricks, I felt as though I had to do something to show her how much it was tearing me up inside. So about halfway through the conversation I did something I am still ashamed to admit . . . I fake cried. Yes, I was an adult (supposedly), and I fake cried while breaking up with someone. At that moment, I realized I was pretty much the picture of pathetic. I also realized relationships aren’t easy. (Note: we’ve long since made amends and I have never again fake cried).

The anguish of hurting someone I cared about and the shame of my own actions in dealing with it, made me swear off any semblance of a potentially romantic relationship for a number of years after that. I decided I would much rather not deal with the potential risks than have to go through something like a breakup again. I realized relationships take work—a lot of work. And there is always risk involved; risk of hurting someone and risk of being hurt. Sometimes it’s not even about the risk or the work, it’s simply about lifestyle. Simply put, being single is often much less complicated.

But even if we decide that relationships are worth the work and sacrifice . . . for Christians, there’s another important consideration. In 1 Corinthians 7:7, Paul said concerning his singleness, “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that”. In the same chapter, Paul talks about how singleness frees people to only be concerned with the Lord’s affairs (1 Corinthians 7:32-34). That can leave Christian singles wondering, “Am I more useful to God if I stay single?” After all, wouldn’t that mean we’d have more time for Kingdom work?

Our answer to the question of whether or not we should stay single depends on us, and more importantly, on our relationship with the One who created us. One of the greatest aspects of the gospel we often forget is its personal nature. God has an original and unique purpose for each of us. This truth has transformed my way of looking at marriage and relationships.

I know of a single, accomplished, young woman who left a well-paying nursing position in a beach-side community to move to Uganda in order to adopt an orphaned boy. She had visited him on previous short-term mission teams, but over the course of time, felt the Lord burden her to return in order to adopt him. Her relationship status didn’t affect her obedience to the Lord. In this instance, being single made her decision much less complicated—she just obeyed the Lord’s direction.

In looking at what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:7, it is important to note that he references his own singleness as a gift that was given to him, and concludes that we have all been given gifts individually. His specific gift of singleness isn’t given to everyone.

So the question we, as Christian singles, need to answer isn’t, “Am I more useful to God if I stay single?” But rather, “What is God’s purpose for my life?” I can assure you that staying single won’t make you more useful to God if that is not His purpose for your life. In fact, I would argue that you would be hindering Him.

Growing up, our home was often visited by a missionary couple my parents knew. They were photojournalists who traveled extensively to tell the stories of other missionaries and the work their organization was doing abroad. The husband was a photographer and the wife was a writer. They have crafted beautiful stories in words and photos of the gospel at work around the world. Separately, they only formed half the puzzle, but together, their skills complemented each other perfectly. It was obvious the Lord had brought them together.

The personal nature of the gospel and God’s unique plans for each individual life make it impossible to have a universal answer to the question of whether or not it is better to marry or stay single. The only way to answer this question is the same way Peter figured out that catching fish was not his life’s purpose—by getting closer to Jesus.

For me, it is no longer about whether one option is better than the other, but rather, whether I am where God wants me. I no longer fear relationships, or the inherent risk of them. And I’m not sure if I will get married or not. Regardless, I’ll do my best to be faithful in whatever season I’m in.

Right now, that means taking advantage of the opportunity to serve God as a single, to invest more time into friendships, and to seek His guidance in the purpose He has for my life. I’ve been able to volunteer more at church and also serve with a group that outreaches to my local surfing community. But more than anything, I want to spend the time singleness affords me, with Jesus—just the two of us.

And just to be clear, I have learned that His purpose for my life in this season or the next . . . certainly does not involve any more fake crying.

 

Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a 3-part series on relationships. Read the first, “What Should I Be Looking for in Dating?” here, and the next article in the series, “Have We Missed the Point of Marriage?” here.