Obviously, we could talk about the millions of ways singleness is different from marriage. But I’m a “big picture” kind of guy, and one way to keep an eternal perspective is to focus on what single people and married folks have in common. Not only does this help me relate more to my married friends, but as an added bonus, it also helps me to be content in my singleness. So, without further ado, singleness is like marriage because…
You have to work at it.
There’s so much talk of working on marriages, but so little talk of working on singleness. Part of the problem, of course, is that singleness is viewed as a temporary state on the way to marriage, where the “real work” begins. But in much the same way marriage does, singleness requires time, effort, planning, prayer, and maybe even counseling. If it looks like your singleness will last awhile, it’s worth asking, “How can I do this well?” We can’t expect things to fall into place without putting in the hard work. We don’t expect it with marriage; we shouldn’t expect it with singleness.
It comes with blessings.
Marriage comes with (ahem) benefits. Aside from sin-free sex, there’s also a measure of security, the hope of children, and the honor of being a living metaphor of Christ and his people. And yet singleness, too, comes with blessings. (Although, if you’re watching too many romantic comedies, it may be harder to recognize them.) Being single affords some of the opportunities Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 7:32 — a chance to focus on “the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” Single people can minister in ways that require time and energy that married people simply don’t have. That’s a real gift.
It comes with challenges.
If we’re honest, I think married and single folks actually share many of the same challenges. The sins we often associate with single people — lust, discontent, and selfishness, to name a few — are just as real (and dangerous) for husbands and wives. These are things we fight against, not as married or single people, but as CHRISTIANS. The challenges may look different on the surface, but the root sins are the same.
Some religious people have elevated marriage too much, deeming it the epitome of happiness, or even worse, godliness. Others have allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction, idolizing singleness. In recent history, of course, the former has won out. (Recruiting offices at monasteries don’t get much business these days.) But one path is not nobler than the other. Single people will learn lessons that married couples never will, and married people will learn lessons that single people never will. We’re all in the business of glorifying God. Whether single or married, if you’re living a life that honors God, then he approves.
And here’s where I get really theological. You see, along with companionship and procreation, marriage exists to be a symbol of God’s faithfulness to his people. Jesus said, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). That’s because in the next life we’ll all be married to HIM. The shadows will give way to the greater reality, and we’ll see what earthly marriage represented all along: the joining of Christ to his people. This means that singleness, too, is a temporary state. All of us, whether or not we are married in this life, look forward to that final marriage described in Revelation 19, where we become the collective Bride of Christ.