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,