Coffee with Todd Wagner

On Mondays, we fast and pray for the Lord to do a work in our generation: for Him to move mountains, raise up men to walk into relationships, soften women to allow God to work in our hearts, and to bring the gift of marriage for those who desire it.

In May of last year, I sat down and had an imaginary coffee with South Carolina pastor, Perry Noble. Quite a few of you chimed in on the conversation that we were having about how many times pastors completely miss the mark when giving advice to single people and say things that are not only not helpful– but destructive. One of the reasons that I fast, pray, and write with this community is that I do not want damaging proclamations whispered into the ears of singles to go unanswered.

Todd Wagner, a married pastor of a large church in Texas, wrote an article called “Why Am I Still Single? 7 Things To Consider If You’re Single And Don’t Want To Be.” This little treasure trove was shared on my Facebook feed this week, and I was almost too terrified to look and see what he wrote. Five of his six points are solid. He writes that singles should know it’s ok to long to be married, to long for a different life circumstance, and that people should (rightly) not expect that we will ever experience life on earth without some unmet desire. We’ve even said similar things here. He even concludes with sympathy and admiration for singles who can’t really find an answer for the big WHY.

Pastor Todd’s advice goes off into wonky territory when he starts to discuss that you might be single because you don’t know yourself, you might be awkward, you haven’t dealt with enough of your stuff, and because God might be being gracious to others by keeping you single. If I was to sit down at Starbucks with Mr. Wagner, this conversation is probably what would take place.

Pastor Todd: Do you know…I mean really know yourself? Are you needy? (that scares everyone) Are you awkward? (that is just awkward) Have you dealt with your hurts, habits, hang-ups? Any relationship is only as healthy as the least healthy person in it.

Anna: I feel like this is fundamentally an unfair question to ask. Most married couples I know definitely did not deal with all of their hurts, habits, and hang-ups before they got married. Most people just meet someone they like, fall in love, and get married. There’s not usually an in-depth psychoanalysis.

When many people marry on the young-side of twenty don’t know themselves terribly well and probably have some pretty bad habits. They’ve had their first jobs and adult experiences, but they’re basically still figuring life out. Your question, although well-meaning, presupposes that to get married, you have to “know yourself” and that you can even know yourself enough for it to make a difference. Most humans in history got married so young they couldn’t possibly have known themselves or dealt with their hang-ups. Yes, if you are a complete nose-picking, jerk who burps in people’s faces, kicks puppies, and never showers, you might be single for fairly obvious reason. But, most of the time, it’s not that obvious.

Pastor Todd: Some people are single and God’s grace is sufficient for them. Some people are single because God is gracious to others. Know which one you are.

Anna: I’m pretty sure that is heretical. God’s grace is sufficient for His people whether or not we feel like it and whether or not we are married. Simply because God’s grace is enough doesn’t mean that singles don’t still desire to get married. Paul said pretty clearly that God’s grace is made perfect in weakness. Sometimes, God grace is the most visible to the singles who are keenly aware of just how broken they are.

If you’re single, regardless of your hang-ups, God is gracious to you. You’re not single because you’re being quarantined. Jesus doesn’t look at you and say, “Oh my gosh, this one is lethal. Gotta keep her from contaminating the holiness stew.” As I’ve said before, marriage and singleness (whether for a season or for life) are both vocational callings. God is working in and through your singleness–even when it’s lonely, and singles, no matter what their issue, aren’t being kept unmarried to be gracious to other people.

Sanctification does not work like that. Unrepentant sin brings consequences into our lives, but that consequence is never God being gracious to others at your expense. Grace is not a zero-sum game. Grace, by its very definition, is for those who do not deserve it: the broken, helpless, needy, gross, and unlovely.

I don’t know how exactly that coffee would end. I hope that Pastor Todd would hear me out. Many on a long road of singleness are keenly aware of their shortcomings and often blame themselves for being too much or never enough to get married. Be comforted that God doesn’t give the good gift of marriage to only those that deserve it. If that was the case, no one would ever get married.

Singles and marrieds should be “[r]adically, relentlessly, daily, biblically deal with our pain, insecurity, anger, hopelessness and neediness” as Pastor Todd says, but not for the hope of being taken out of the sick bay or the B team. We should be pursuing wholeness and holiness for God’s glory and our good.

Praying with and for you,

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29 Responses to Coffee with Todd Wagner

  1. Alice says:

    thank you for this post. While I know there are things I can work on it is easy to get discouraged when I see people who are married who have the same “issues.” I needed this reminder and it was a big encouragement to me.

  2. Janey says:

    This really makes me feel even worse about being single. I know I’m not perfect and I’m working on my flaws as anyone else would. But if the expectation is for me to be perfect before I get married or for me to FIX all my issues before I marry, then you might as well condemn me to a life of singleness now because I’m a work in progress and I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for a spouse then.

    These comments by the pastor just make me feel like I’m WORSE than any normal person who has issues.

  3. Lyn says:

    The type of reasoning on the part of this pastor is why so many of us start feeling sub human as singles, almost like we’re being punished for something and don’t know why. And many of us (I’m guessing) would give anything to know the ‘why and what needs fixing’ before we’re too late. If that’s how it goes. I’m not sure, and I do struggle with this.
    Basically, we’re told by some in the Christian community (by married people, naturally) that if we don’t have this Mother Teresa spirit of servitude and give beatific smiles to everyone, somehow we’re just not ‘ready’ for marriage yet. Funny how many of them end up in divorce court . . .hmmm.

    • fast. pray. says:

      I definitely understand that feeling. I wanted to address the areas of his article that I thought were potentially hurtful to people who are struggling with being single.


  4. Kathy says:

    Hi, would you girls address loneliness and boredom and depression related to singleness in one of your posts someday? Just a suggestion, thanks!

  5. Judy says:

    I read the pastors article and tend to think you’re being over sensitive. His point, I believe is simply that we should make sure we try to improve ourselves to make ourselves more attractive. It’s no secret that many unmarried women are clearly unmarried for a good obvious reason – usually some personality flaw. I think he’s just trying to say, if that’s you and that’s why you’re not married, try working on it, so you have one less obstacle to overcome.

    Don’t think he’s saying at all that married people are perfect or that if you fix your flaws you will find a spouse.

    • fast. pray. says:

      You may be right about the over sensitivity. I just naturally cringe when I hear that most women who are single have some detectable reason why. I don’t think it’s necessarily that cut and dry. I appreciate your feedback!


  6. Jane says:

    I get your point of view, but I also get his. I know a couple of singles who I dearly love, who really would not be good spouses at this point in their lives, and perhaps God is being gracious to other people by keeping them single. God is still gracious to them though, as He is gracious to all his children.
    I also do know some people who are single becuase they haven”t dealt with their own issues and it’s those issues that keep them out of relationships due to fears and behaviours that have developed.
    But, there are no hard and fast rules – people with issues still get married. And God allows people to get married and treat their spouse badly instead of stopping the marriage.

    • fast. pray. says:

      You’re right that there are sometimes issues that we have that might be barriers to a relationship. I just take issue with formulaic thinking. I could get all of my “issues” taken care of and it still doesn’t mean that I will get married. I appreciate your perspective though!


      • jane says:

        I agree forumlatic thinknig isn’t great, but I didn’t think he was saying that was true for everyone……..
        Some people do get issues taken care of (however we will always have some issues) – and never marry, others marry with all their baggae…. but, there are some that don’t marry because of their issues, or they come across needy or what not….. all is true…..

    • Kathy says:

      What does he mean by God is bring gracious to others by keeping them single? Does he mean they will make lousy spouses so he’s protecting the potentially suffering other half? That sounds totally absurd. And insensitive.

      • fast. pray. says:

        I know. That’s why I wrote nearly 1000 words on it. My guess is if he knew how that sounded in isolation, he would have said it differently. At at least I hope so. My main response to his assertion is that regardless of whether or not you have a personality issue or besetting sin that’s “keeping you single” God is being gracious to you in the process of personal sanctification. His grace is never for someone else at your expense.


        • Lyn says:

          The insensitive nature of that pastor’s comments is like telling a woman who suffers infertility that her baby is better off born to someone else and all her true children were given to other women who are somehow better for them.

      • jane says:

        I think it is true for some!!! SOme poeple will be aweful spouses. Have you talked to people with horrible spouses? It does happen. I have friends i love who would not be good spouses.
        I think unfortunately some wonderful people who would make great spouses will take those words to be about them, and feel upset by them, it could perhaps have been worded better.
        However, some peopel do need a hit on the head with a mallet to reazlie how much they need to change….

        • hi says:

          True, but I think that’s a minority. Assuming his intention is to address the average single Christian reader, that person would be a normal person struggling with finding a spouse despite basically having no more flaws than any other normal average Christian.

          His comment is insensitive because he seems to be assuming that the average single Christian is somehow terrible when that is actually an extreme case.

        • alliebabar says:

          True, perhaps he should have been more specific that it applies only to a few, & for many of those few it is often only for a season of their lives and then God changes and grows them.

  7. hi says:

    Why not highlight good, biblical articles on singleness instead of the ones which are “wonky” or “heretical”? There’s to much crap out there to address it all.

    • fast. pray. says:

      Definitely a good idea. I should do that more often.


      • Neelam says:

        Thanks Anna for writing the article. I like that you addressed a wonky article, because it’s important to address the lies that permeate society and the church. Your group writes plenty of good articles. So once in a while, it’s OK to address the bad ones.


    • alliebabar says:

      Hmm but, as a married person it is helpful to hear what is not helpful to say to a single person. I find it is so easy to put my foot in it and offend or cause pain because I don’t know what is unhelpful for the person in a different situation to me.

      • Alex says:

        You make it sound like “as a married person” you are a different creature from a single person and need to be taught what may or may not be offensive. Really? You need to be told that what this pastor said is offensive – because you’re married?!?

        That, to me, a single creature, is offensive. I would hope we can all try to empathize with each other as fellow human beings.

      • Autumn says:

        @alliebabar: I appreciate your honesty and perspective! I think a lot of single people wish that the married ones around them would think twice before serving out unwanted advice or a pat on the back followed by some trite platitude (we all know those -> “Jesus is your husband” “Just wait on the Lord” etc, etc, etc). We should all display sensitivity and compassion with our words and think before we speak…no matter what the situation or circumstance 🙂 The best thing any married person said to me (after the umpteenth wedding I was a bridesmaid in) was “I’m praying for you!” And I knew that she would because she follows through with her word! How refreshing instead of the usual “You’re next!” when I’ve heard that for the past 10+ years with no change in status. I’d much rather have prayer than platitudes 🙂

  8. Cheryl says:

    Thank you Anna for such a beautifully written post!

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