The Gift of God's Kindness: Singleness and the Church
If I’m being honest, this was going to be a different post. When asked to write on singleness, I thought - Finally! An opportunity to write a snarky yet brilliant post about those glittery, perfect, shiny, Instagram marriages that everyone else seems to have. About how singles are marginalized in the church, despite making up more than half of the population, and how much I love the sentiments “but Jesus was single you know” and “you have the gift of time, time to spend serving others! Especially in the nursery!”
However, as I was talking to another single, 30-something friend, I realized that this post would take a different direction, that I wanted to express God’s heart for singleness and marriage and true community in the church. To paint a picture of a flourishing church where everyone (single or married) represents God’s redemptive work not just in our individual lives, but for creation as a whole. Where we invite others into the joy and presence of a Savior who has redeemed us and who cares for us in the most deep and intimate ways. Who knew our form before we were in our mother’s womb and numbers the hairs on our head. My hope is that we will be challenged to consider that in our singleness or in our marriage, we are pointing to something greater. Something lasting, something eternal, something far more glorious that we could ever imagine!
My friend and I were talking, as we often do, about our lives and what we were hoping for and praying for in the new year. Inevitably, one of the things on the list was that this year may finally be the year that we find that “special someone,” someone who is our “better half” and finally completes us (oops, I guess a little snark crept in after all). As I started to pray, I felt a sense of exhaustion, of not knowing what else or how else to continue to pray for this desire, year after year, all while not seeing how or if God is working in that area of our lives. Wondering how to pray not only for our desire for a husband and partner, but for the families that we desire to have. Wondering how to maintain hope for something that seems less likely or possible with each passing day.
I started off my prayer with “God, we don’t know why you are calling us to still wait in this season”… and then stopped. 2 Peter 3:9 went through my mind, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish.” This was quickly followed by Romans 2:4, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
I stopped mid-sentence, letting that sink in. How many of us long for the day when Christ returns and puts everything right? Where every tear is wiped away, every longing of our heart fulfilled, evil is defeated and justice prevails? Yet these verses tell us that God’s kindness leads to delay so that more can receive the free gift of faith. What an amazing and profound revelation! It also struck me in that moment that our singleness represents God’s kindness towards those who have not yet believed. That the waiting results in even greater rejoicing at the marriage feast of the Lamb.
The idea of God’s kindness was driven home to me at a recent graduate student retreat. At that retreat, I experienced an amazing gift of community, where students and faculty from around the world came together to worship and rest and to invite God into our workspaces. To rest in God’s favor and infinite love for us, despite our brokenness, our failures and our fears. It struck me that as much as we desire community, and satisfying, deep relationships, both married and singles must recognize community and deep relationships as God’s gracious gifts to us. Not something to be demanded or to be continually striving to achieve or create, but they are gifts to be freely given and freely received. Gifts that represent outpouring of love and a measure of God’s kindness toward us.
With that in mind, what are some practical ways that the church can specifically encourage singles?
Give the gift of carrying each other’s burdens. Being single often means carrying the burden of making every decision and fulfilling responsibilities by yourself. Ask your single friends how to pray for them, what decisions they have coming up and where they could use encouragement. Offer to be there to listen or provide advice if they need it. An amazing gift I was given recently was a married friend who said, “We would love to pray for that so you can let it go but know that it is not being left alone.” Such an amazing gift! To know that I don’t have to carry the burden or the responsibility of knowing what to do or how to pray for that situation – that he and his wife are carrying that on my behalf before the Father.
Recognize singles as equal parts of the church, uniquely gifted as God’s children. Serve them and care for them as brothers and sisters in Christ, not as married or unmarried. Singles have the same practical needs and desires as married people, but often with fewer opportunities for these needs to be met! Offer to cook a meal for them or take them out to dinner so they get a break from the daily grind. Celebrate them for who they are and what you appreciate about them! Be creative – this could range from a note of appreciation, sending flowers for special occasions, going to movies or concerts with them, or asking to be part of an activity or hobby they love. Ask how you can serve a practical need – perhaps taking them to or from appointments, mowing their lawn, walking their dog, providing company on a Friday night.
Elevate singles in the church. Ask them to participate fully in the life of your church, especially if there are areas where they are gifted and the church has a need. Bring singles into traditions such as the lighting of the advent candle. Let them read Scripture readings, share testimonies, lead ministries or teams in the church, without pre-conception of where they should serve simply because of their marital status. Ask them to share what God is teaching them, how he is working in their lives in whatever season they are in.
Finally, pray that God would be at work to give His rich and gracious gift of community and His presence. Not only to us as believers, but to those He is calling that have not yet come.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”