Christian and Single: Dead or Alive?
Being single when you wish you weren’t can be difficult. It’s hard attending church alone, going through the holidays alone, or taking vacation days alone. So we get over it. What other options do we have? We toughen up. Yet if we’re not careful, we can get a little too cold—our hearts start to harden, if for no other reason than to provide a first line of defense: if my heart isn’t fully alive, it won’t fully feel the pain.
There are plenty of opportunities for pain in singleness. Loneliness, disappointment, jealousy. Bitterness, weariness. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Proverbs 13:12), and most of us—at least at one time or another—hope for companionship, romance, and faithful love. So while we’re waiting, hearts can start to wilt as hope begins to wane.
In case you’re in an early stage of singleness (and hopefully it will be the only stage for you! I pray you find a spouse, and soon), know that there are plenty of life-giving activities that you can do to stay on the path of growth, vitality, and hope. Even without “the complementary relationship and comprehensive institution of cooperation given to humanity in marriage” (well said, Pastor Nic), we can still bear and display God’s image beautifully and joyfully.
Let’s cover the basics.
Be fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers to other believers.
Live with people! At least some of the time. Roommates build character. What a perfect opportunity to learn how to receive feedback and not retaliate (1 Peter 2:23, Matthew 7:3). We learn that we can be annoying (I’m not perfect??), and we can exercise not being annoyed. If we’re courageous enough, we even learn to deal with conflict instead of burying our emotions, taking hold of grace instead of letting bitterness fester (Hebrews 12:15).
Hang out with your siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces.
Pray for opportunities to love on widows and orphans (James 1:27).
Be fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers to your neighbors and even enemies.
Don’t think you have any “enemies”? Ask yourself (and the Holy Spirit), “if I were to have any enemies, who would they be?” There’s a strong chance someone will come to mind. Start by loving them.
Does someone have something against you? Do what you can to resolve it. Do you have something against someone else? Don’t leave unforgiveness untouched. Reconcile. If we have areas of unforgiveness in our life, it creates a block in our relationship with the Lord. We may have moved on, but He hasn’t. He is waiting for us there.
Cook or shovel for your neighbors. Talk to them. Carpool.
Give more time and energy to service and leadership.
You likely have more time on your hands than someone with kids, so volunteer in the church nursery or coffee ministry. Put in the man hours that others can’t in organizing an event that blesses others and the Lord.
If circumstances haven’t lined up yet for you to pursue your own vision, find someone else’s vision that you can get on board with, and serve theirs. You might end up learning how to respect authority, stay humble, and find joy in seeing someone else’s dream come true. Doing something small faithfully can prepare you for more later (Luke 16:10).
Be the one to initiate. Plan events. Host parties. Show up to what others are trying to do for the kingdom. Find ways to help other people practice their giftings. What do you wish someone else would do for you? Do that for someone else.
Give more time and attention to the other parts of bearing God’s image—including specialization—which takes extreme time and focus that is often not conducive to family life.
Pursue a career and get good at it. Put in extra hours. But continue to hold it with open hands. You can have only one master (Luke 16:13).
If you haven’t already, be sure to get your habits in order. This takes time and is easier to do when you are responsible only for yourself and not a whole family. Practice eating, sleeping, and exercising right. Establish healthy life rhythms of work, rest, and play. Build consistency with spiritual disciplines, including attending church regularly, reading the Bible, and praying alone and in groups.
Pursue inner healing. This also takes time, and better to start dealing with the issues now instead of once they get exacerbated by the stress and conflict that come with marriage and parenting. Get counseling, read books to learn about yourself and others, journal and self-reflect, invite correction from mentors, participate in extended times of prayer and worship.
“Father, what do you want to address in me? What do you want to heal in me?” Listen. Write down what comes to mind. Follow up with it.
Consider vocations or opportunities that involve higher levels of risk—since you don’t have the same responsibilities as are found in families.
Serve in other parts of the world.
Practice giving more generously than you’d feel comfortable doing if others were dependent on your income.
Practice stepping out in faith and trusting God.
Ride a motorcycle. (I did ask my husband to stop riding his once I was pregnant with our first child.)
Exercise your freedom with the mind of a steward—you have a life to invest for God. Family is not the way you are doing it now. Think of what God is like, and do whatever your hands find to do.
What do you like to do? What do you enjoy? Do that!
Write a vision statement for your life. Start living in line with it.
What’s one of your favorite Bible verses? Make it a life verse. Remember it often and let it shape your thoughts, words, and actions.
These are some of the basics, and doing them can provide avenues into bearing God’s image nobly. If done with love for Jesus and partnership with the Holy Spirit, we can be single, wish we weren’t, yet find we are thriving and bearing fruit as so many other of our God-given desires get fulfilled. “...a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Our hearts can be tender. We can be alive to God and His kingdom even while we wait.
But the waiting often takes its toll, especially if it is prolonged and involuntary. Hearts can only seem to take so much genuine disappointment before we are tempted to cover it up with sarcasm, gossip, and the like. We might hide loneliness with self-sufficiency, or embarrassment with a mask of lightheartedness. It’s hard to carry unfulfilled desire and stay truly alive.
So, my friends, if you are finding yourself in this later stage of singleness (again, I pray it will come to a conclusion quickly for you!) and you are carrying a heavy heart despite pursuing the basics as best you can, I offer you this: a few heartfelt suggestions on how to continue in hope and keep your heart alive.
May the Holy Spirit breathe fresh life into you even while you read the list. Ask Him to highlight one or two for you, and then try them. There are plenty to pick from. Ask God for grace, for help, and for hope. He remains faithful in the waiting.
Talk to your soul.
Use worship songs to remind yourself of the truth. Find a song or an album that includes truths you need to hear and sit with it for a long time, through an entire season even, so your soul knows what to sing when your mind and emotions don’t.
Memorize a Psalm. Any Psalm! Psalms 1, 23, and 16 are great places to start. As you memorize and recite it, prayerfully meditate on the words.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)
Develop a friendship with Jesus.
Do things you love with Jesus: go to the theater, concerts, walks in nature, traveling, eating good food, exercise…so many options!
Let Him in on how you’re feeling, what you're thinking about. Ask Him what is on His mind. Pause to listen and consider the next thing that comes to mind—it could be Him! Sure, it could also just be you…or it could be “just you” having a pretty good idea of what He would say.
Write out the expectations you had and have for your life and how you were or are disappointed. Offer it to Jesus as a sacrifice. It is beautiful and precious to Him. Praise Him for what He has done.
Don’t discount your struggle just because someone else’s is worse.
Use Psalms as a guide, then write your own (e.g., Psalms 13, 25, 31, 86). A quick Google search on how to write a lament Psalm can give you some ideas if you feel stuck!
Let your emotions wake up again. Cry with the Lord.
If you are unhappy, change something.
Look down the road—if you continue as is, is your situation likely to change? If it doesn’t seem likely, talk to God about what to do.
Knock on doors that are in line with wisdom or the promptings of the Holy Spirit. See what opens.
Consider online dating. Go to where other godly single people are. Travel.
Don’t force something. Stay within peace and grace.
Fight against a martyr-complex, bitterness, and self-pity.
When you see the good that is in front of you, call it good, and believe in its goodness. Don’t only sacrifice and suffer.
Said another way, don’t only continually die to yourself because you think this is the path to godliness. It is, but you must also put on the “new man” and live the new life in Christ (Ephesians 4).
If you let disappointment turn into resignation and let your heart die in the process, it is very difficult to thrive. If this is happening in you, start by acknowledging it.
Whatever your lot, don’t just endure it. Accept it, call it good, enjoy it, and pursue coming alive.
Pray prayers of radical love that change you into a radical lover.
Try a crafted prayer (I took this idea from Graham Cooke). A crafted prayer is one that you think about, plan, write (using Scripture to help), sit with, edit, and then pray over and over. Prayers that you pray over the course of a month, year, or decade can change you, so consider how you want to be changed and write a prayer to that effect. Or, consider the many crafted prayers already out there that you can take for your own (e.g., Psalms, Book of Common Prayer, google “apostolic prayers” to find prayers of the New Testament).
“I’ll go anywhere for the gospel.”
“Judge me severely, correct me ruthlessly, that I might serve you more perfectly”. (This is one of my favorite prayers and is taken from The Final Quest by Rick Joyner).
“Your timing is perfect. I rejoice in Your timing. I have hope and joy in Your timing.”
“Like Mary poured out the costly perfume in worship, I pour out my beauty and strength on you.”
Remind yourself of the bigger narrative.
Consider eternity often.
Read biographies from different time periods and locations around the world.
Read books about heaven or the history of the church and moves of the Spirit.
Scroll through beautiful pictures of nature instead of Instagram when you need a mind break.
Foster friendships with people who are eternally-minded, who shine with the light of the life of Christ.
The desire in your heart for marriage and family is a good one. Don’t let it die. Ask the Lord to help you in your season of waiting, and then ask Him again, and again, and again. He will see you through. Your heart of love for Jesus, free from offense and bitterness in the midst of disappointment, is a beautiful gift you can give to Him. Hold on to hope. Hold on to Him.
And come alive.
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV)
Christina Sekutowski married her husband, John, at age 30 and considers her 20s to be a gift from the Lord: they shaped her heart with love for Jesus in the midst of the sadness of being unmarried. She loves talking with others about their journey in singleness, and would love to talk with you! She and her daughter Adelae can be found in various coffee shops and living rooms around the Madison area.