Trellis in the Checkout Line

On Mondays, we fast and pray that godly men would walk upright and into relationship, that godly women would be softened, and that marriages would be given to those who desire them.

There is no escaping it! Red, pink, hearts, roses, and cupids, the signs of February and its unofficial holiday, Valentine’s Day, have bombarded us over the last several weeks.  There was a trellis archway filled with red roses over the “10 items or less” checkout line at the grocery store on Friday, which not only limited the items you could purchase but also the height of the individual that could enter the line without needing to physically contort to stoop under it (nothing like knocking people on the head with the need to make a purchase).

I know Valentine’s Day conjures up many thoughts and feelings. Perhaps you’ve turned to Galentine’s Day to celebrate friendships or use it as an excuse to load up on cinnamon candy hearts. This Valentine’s season I’ve been challenged to think about how I’m living a life of love, like in the full sense of the word. If God is love and we are to be like Him, shouldn’t we embody love as Christians?  And the resounding answer is… Yes!

Have you ever heard comments implicating singles as being selfish? There are elements of singleness that naturally lend to a self-centered focus (like being the sole provider and the only one doing house work), but selfishness implies putting the needs of self before the needs of others. If general consensus puts singleness and selfishness in close proximity, what does that mean for the self-sacrificing love God calls us to live out?

While trying to process singleness, selfishness, and love, I came across this article quoted on Facebook:

“Marriage is a covenant–a promise–to God that you vow to love another like Christ first loved us. In the most intimate, challenging, all-inclusive way. A vow to become one flesh with another person. To serve them and selflessly love them as Christ served and selflessly loved us to the cross. To carry their burdens. To take the lashes of their shortcomings. To bear the taunting of their sins and struggles. To put them before yourself to the point of brokenness, so that we can ultimately rise, just as our King did, in love. With a greater understanding of the magnitude of the Gospel. With a greater appreciation for the power of what Jesus did on our behalf.

Marriage is a taste. A tiny, intimate taste, of God’s love for us. It is a promise that is not taken lightly because, ultimately, it is a promise to accept another and love another like God loves us, daily. It is nothing we can even come close to doing on our own.

And THAT is the joy of saying “yes” to the proposal. Not that we have found the “perfect person”, but that we are a step closer to drawing back a layer and getting to see God’s perfect love played out in a beautiful way in our lives.”

So what does that mean for those of us hanging out in singledom? Will we ever have the opportunity to see God’s love played out in our lives and in our interactions with others? Is our only hope to live like Mother Teresa to demonstrate that we are self-sacrificing and becoming more Christ-like?

The Bible tells us that it is better to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:8), so surely it’s not because God wants to have a bunch of selfish single people representing Him. So how do we live out our singleness “to see God’s perfect love played out in a beautiful way in our lives” by laying down self and becoming more like Christ?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. I believe this plays out differently for each person and we need to seek God daily as we choose to lay down our selfish desires and serve others. As we grow in our relationship with God we have the opportunity to change the perception of singles (being selfish is just one of them) to a beautiful picture of God’s love.

2 Peter 1: 3 – 8

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May His Love Abound,


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26 Responses to Trellis in the Checkout Line

  1. K says:

    Rather late to the party here for commenting, but hope it’s ok if I do anyway…?

    Thank you for this post – I always find your perspectives and thoughts encouraging, challenging even, and thought-provoking, so thank you to all who contribute (and to those who comment); I’m one of those lurkers who listens much and typically says little.

    This post brings a perspective I haven’t really heard voiced straight out (single = selfish), so it made me stop and think for a bit about whether there’s an element of that in the definition of the label of “single” where I live, or if that label is simply that generic “you’re in the waiting room of usefulness until you’re dating or married” category at church. I think the perception of being single by marrieds (especially those who got married relatively young quite some time ago) does include that “selfish” overtone – an overtone that now is being used as a backlash by singles with things like calling Valentine’s Day “Singles Awareness Day”… I admit, an attitude I shared for quite a few years before praying and thinking myself out of it (eh, mostly) over time.

    As a closely-approaching-30 woman myself, being single for the past decade has been an experience of tremendous growth for me – mostly growth in confidence as I more deliberately made choices regarding my future rather than playing the waiting game (I made my focus my church, my career, and an advanced degree) and stepped out in faith that those choices would bear some kind of fruit (always, of course, hoping that some door or window would open with regards to my singleness); so I guess as a single I have been somewhat selfish in focusing on areas other than a relationship, though I call it pragmatic due to my social circumstances at church and work (namely, very few single Christian men of a particular age range and maturity level) and wanting to figure out who I was before introducing that self to someone else. 🙂 I wrote a blog post myself on Valentine’s Day (which you are welcome to read) with my thoughts, since my perspective has changed rather drastically even in the past year (and part of that influenced by the writers on this blog, so again, thank you).

    • fast. pray. says:

      We always welcome comments. 🙂 I used to also subscribe to the “Singleness Awareness Day” mentality. It’s taken years and God’s grace to crawl out of that pit. I’ll check out your post! –Anna

      • K says:

        Thank you, and I hope you find it interesting (“enjoy” didn’t seem the right word). 🙂
        It’s now the second most recent entry on my blog (title “A True Valentine”), as I just wrote one about being blindsided.

  2. Anon in VA says:

    I’m also about to turn 40 in less than three months which terrifies and depresses me. Not dating anyone, and no prospects. Just the milestone birthday in itself brings a deafening cry in my head of “you’ve failed, God’s forgotten you, no one has chosen you” to a degree that it’s hard to worry about things like selfishness. So I am processing that, praying through it, trying to not let it take over all the space in my head and heart. I try to focus on my blessings and thank God for them, and I truly have many. And I try to glean joy from the things I’m dreaming about in the future (like some major house renovations). And I try to serve others. But honestly, sometimes it feels like just distraction because serving and refocusing myself toward blessings and future dreams often doesn’t really change my perspective much, or for very long.

    And it is hard to feel invisible in my church, though I am loved there. Sometimes I wish long-term singles were seen as the widows of our age, so that we’d get some help! And sometimes I don’t want that at all because I want to do it all myself!

    I also have to agree with Karina in that I struggle to see how these 20 years of singleness have produced much fruit in my life or anyone else’s, and I struggle with each passing year to remain open and kind to men. I just don’t really see the purpose other than some minor things. I’m usually able to accept suffering if I see the point, but I get frustrated when God doesn’t reveal that. I guess I will just have to continue to wait for that.

    Back to the topic at hand, I have always lived with housemates, initially because of finances, and now more by choice, and that’s the most tangible thing I can see that’s helped battle my selfishness. I also think I’d be more lonely without them. I’ve also increased my giving which has also helped. I do think we have to be thoughtful about battling selfishness and make choices accordingly because as singles, we are going to have more opportunity to be selfish. But if you subscribe to the belief, even to some degree, that “marriage is God’s primary method to reduce selfishness” then I also don’t think we can berate ourselves because we aren’t in that place.

  3. T says:

    I think prayer and awareness and the desire to be selfless are important. But that desire can take on other motivations like guilt. I will say yes to an annoying request like last minute babysitting because I feel guilty and I don’t want to be selfish, and I don’t want to be seen as selfish. On the other hand, when it comes to my own needs, house repairs and time, I’m less likely to ask for assistance because I think my married/family friends are “so overwhelmed” and don’t have the resources to support me.

    I think it’s impossible to measure your level of selfishness as a single person unless you have something to compare to it, like getting married or caring for a parent. I know I’m selfish, I just don’t know how much. But perhaps married people are challenged to learn other things like being alone with God. No matter what, you’re going to keep trying to get better.

    • Michelle says:

      Hi T,
      Life is often about managing the balance of extremes to live a Christ-centered life. Setting boundaries and knowing yourself are important in maintaining overall health. Serving others is key to selfless living, but too much self-denial could jeopardize our emotional and physical health. This is where praying for wisdom and seeking wise counsel will help us to not operate out of guilt, but out of a pure desire to serve others and know our limits.

  4. Karina says:

    To me, someone who desires to be married someday, this post just highlights that the state of singleness (unless we are called to it) is not an ideal state to be in, in life. Its like being sick – its something that afflicts many people, and its not good, but it still happens.

    I don’t singles can learn how to be selfless like married people can, and we won’t be given the opportunity to learn it unless we get married. But we can’t get married because we live in a fallen, imperfect world, where some people fall sick and die young, and some people never marry.

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Karina,
      I believe God is all about doing the seemingly impossible. From creating the world to reviving the dead… what could be more beautiful and contrary to a stereotype than someone that is single, selfless, joyful, and lovely! If we look only through the eyes of statistics, getting married might seem impossible, but He just might have a miracle in store! I get excited just thinking about the possibilities!! In the meantime, wouldn’t it behoove us to work at becoming more attractive by being more Christ-like?

      • Karina says:

        Thanks for your encouragement, Michelle. Its hard being single though, and you’re right, it DOES go against the stereotype to be happily single once you hit 30; a big reason is because “everyone” has found their other half but we’re still waiting or going through breakups at this late stage.

        I’ve been thinking about what it means to be more Christlike during my single years as well, how I could use this time to prepare myself to be a wonderful wife and person etc, and part of the reason it goes against the stereotype to be single and truly joyful etc is because if you’ve waited long enough (and I don’t mean those 26 year olds who bemoan being single) there is a chance that it can grate on you, and the singleness become the thorn in our flesh and the struggle with continually trusting God and the struggle with loneliness and regrets and hurts of failed relationships will start to play on a person.

        I would love to say that my suffering (in this respect) has produced character but I feel like as much as I’ve tried to trust God and find my joy in Him and lead my life in a way that He would be glorified, as much as I’ve tried to do that, I wonder if I am actually becoming a WORSE person because of the weight of my singleness. Turn to God and rely on Him? I try my very best, I promise you I am trying but the actual effect of long term singleness on me seems to be making me less and less attractive, made me grow weary, defeated, and frustrated, even as I am aware of it.

        • Michelle says:

          As I’m about to exit my 30s, it’s hard not to reflect on the decade and wonder if I’ve missed a turn because I’m seemingly so far off the path I had dreamed for myself. But then I’m reminded in Proverbs 16:9 “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” I’ve been able to take lots of risks in my 30s and have felt God’s hand with me through every step, so how can I doubt the steps He has determined for me?

          Here’s what I’ve noticed about myself. I feel the most depressed, alone, and single when I’m wallowing in self pity and focusing all my attention on what I don’t have. If I choose instead to focus on the blessings that fill my life (even if I can only think of one) it helps to redirect my attention away from me and gives me perspective to see my life in a different light. I begin to see myself, not as someone without, but someone richly blessed.

          That doesn’t mean that I squelch desire or abandon hope, quite the contrary. I just know I need to take those desires to the Source of hope. I’m closing out this decade with another slightly risky adventure (maybe I’ll share the details sometime) and it’s challenging my faith, but boy, oh boy, is God doing awesome things. I figure, while I’m single, I’m going to take full advantage of the flexibility and freedom and take some risks to serve others.

          I don’t have this all figured out, but here are a few suggestions for you. Mediate on Philippians 4: 4-9. I would also challenge you to find some way to serve others, if you are not already doing so. Lastly, look for ways to add a little adventure into your life… eat dessert for breakfast or decorate a friend’s car for his/her birthday really late at night or go on a spontaneous road trip. Adventure increases my zeal for life and provides some great stories to tell others, which makes me seem way more interesting that I really am, and reminds me that being single does have perks!

          Praying for you!

  5. Deb B says:

    I too have heard this type of reasoning–such as from Gary Thomas who talks about the purpose of marriage being to make us holy, not t make us happy. First of all, it has made me realize that as a single I need to intentionally seek out the kinds of relationships and situations that will help me learn to be less selfish. There are plenty of ways single adults can learn selflessness, but it will often be something we have to intentionally seek out.

    This makes me wonder: Could the emphasis or stereotype about the “selfish single” be a lie that the enemy is using to divide us or to even make marriage seem less attractive to people? May we rise up to show the world what selfless love looks like, whether married or single, and may the power of that love point many to God.

    • Michelle says:

      Deb, Love your last sentence! Marital status has nothing to do with God’s call for all of His followers to daily live out selfless love.

  6. Danielle says:

    Very interesting post, Michelle! I’ve found that in the past several months, God’s really been dealing with me regarding this very subject. I’ve found that taking care of an aging parent is helping to purge out some selfishness within me, especially when I’m literally kneeling on the floor to assist with putting on socks, shoes, picking up things, I’m immediately reminded that if Jesus could stoop down and serve by washing the disciples feet, so can I (literally and figuratively).

    Also, I was a very tunnel-vision person in regards to running errands. Especially if I’ve had a long day at work, I just want to go into whatever store I need to go into, get what I need, and go home. But I began to feel God tugging at my heart to not be so focused ‘on the task’, but rather to be more aware of people around me. Sometimes this just means that I simply make eye contact with people I pass and smile and say ‘hello’ (might not seem like a big deal, but I live in the northeast and we just don’t do that kind of thing :P), sometimes this means listening patiently as some old lady begins to randomly talk to me about finding the right can of string beans. My natural tendency is to feel that this is a waste of my time and productivity, but I began to realize that my annoyance was really a manifestation of selfishness within me. Many of these encounters won’t end up in my outwardly proclaiming my faith and leading them in ‘the sinners prayer’, but I do want to be open to God using me in any situation. Maybe that old lady doesn’t have anyone to talk to at home and the grocery store’s the only people interaction she gets during the day. If that means losing 5 minutes from my schedule, it’s not the end of the world. One time, an innocent discussion in the check-out line led to a lady telling me that she was scared because her friend was just diagnosed with cancer. What a wonderful opportunity for prayer that would’ve been missed had I stayed focused on ‘my task’. To me, I think that’s showing love and putting others before yourself…an ongoing lesson I’m still learning, but He who began a good work in me is faithful to complete it until the day He returns 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Danielle,
      Beautiful! Great reminder to look for the opportunities all around us to be the hands and feet of God. I will pray for you as you care for your parent, definitely a test of selflessness.

  7. marina840 says:

    Reblogged this on Wings Like Eagles and commented:
    Does single mean selfish…interesting thoughts…

  8. Danielle says:

    I’m just chiming in about what you said you’d like to hear thoughts on, but recently, I was in a meeting with an older woman where she told me that she has begun to regularly ask herself, “What would love dictate?” in situations she faces. I’ve started asking myself this question a lot lately. I also think a lot on Psalm 37:3, which comes before our famous “delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” verse, and says “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” While I’m no Mother Theresa, I think to be conscious of the good I can be bringing to the world around me wherever I am and to be asking myself and responding accordingly to the question of “What would love dictate in this situation?” brings God glory on my little corner of the earth and cultivates a spirit of selflessness in me.

  9. Anna says:

    I do think that in the wider culture — both inside and outside the church — singles have the reputation of “selfishness” because of the perception that we have more time on their hands than married people, more flexibility in terms of their decision-making, and generally, they don’t have to consult anyone on the minor to the major life decisions (although they often do).

    I think there isn’t anything inherently selfish about fairly autonomous decision-making, however, the Bible does command us to submit ourselves to one another as to Christ–regardless of martial status. I think a huge part of that is being an active member of a local church, submitting to the authority/discipline of the church, and finding a corner of the church to serve in.

    • Michelle says:

      Good point about the church’s role in our lives. I love autonomous decision-making when it means I can go skiing or do something fun, but throw in a challenge and I’d welcome another head to share the weight of the decision (aren’t we fickle creatures:-)).

  10. Leslie says:

    While I get the email updates, I rarely ever remember to read them and I’m not sure if I’ve commented before, but this one struck me.

    Honestly, I’ve been noticing a lot of pride lately in some of those who are married and/or have children – not all of them, of course, but quite a few times when I’ve heard or read someone say something along the lines of change its really more of a “oh look at me! oh look at me!” which of course, isn’t really change at all, but still a part of the selfishness we all tend to. It irritates me to no end when people say that you can’t know love until you (everyone reading this) become a parent (oh yes I can), etc… maybe you (the speaker) didn’t, but don’t place your shortcomings on all the people around you.

    So all that to say; your comparing your change to a married person’s change – don’t do that; they may not have changed as much as you think they have.

    (And all that to say, we as single people have to change a lot – we deal with obnoxious people, co-workers, etc… all the time – no its not the one on one dealing with a spouse, but we do have to deal with and handle issues too).

    • ladyelaine80 says:

      I hear you Leslie. Frankly, I think far too often, ESPECIALLY in evangelical culture, marital status and fertility are implicitly conflated with personal identity/value. For me, the combined cultural emphasis, shaming and stereotyping has made me wonder if I want anything to do with church.

      • Michelle says:

        Sorry to hear that you’ve felt devalued in the church. I will pray that you begin to have encounters in the church that reinforce your identity and value in Christ.

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Leslie! Glad you were able to read this post. I know people are bombarded with emails, so I appreciate those that take the time to read and even more time to comment. I agree that selfishness and other sins are issues for everyone, regardless of marital status. It’s important for all of us claiming to be Christians to become more Christ-like. All we can do is make sure we are living out our part.

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