In recent months, my co-author and I have agonized over the best approach for our book on singleness. We thought we had it; then we weren’t so sure. We have both worked with singles and single parents for years and have many stories to share about those who have found healing and wholeness as singles. Our desire has always been to encourage singles and help them understand their value. We say we want them to be “whole-hearted singles” and that all singles have equal worth in the eyes of God, even though in the church singles often feel “less than” because they aren’t married.
The New Testament invites all to be part of the family of believers and to reproduce spiritually, whether single or married. In that view, the family is as much a spiritual entity as a physical one and the role singles have to play in God’s story is both significant and unique. I’m on board with all of that.
Then one night in September I was watching the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun” on TV (for about the third time since it came out in 2003) and an interesting thing happened in my heart.
If you saw the movie, you may recall the premise. Diane Lane plays a woman in her mid-30s who has been dumped by her husband and who goes to Italy to start a new, independent life. But even though she is successful at renovating this rundown villa and making lots of new, wonderful friends, she still longs to be in a loving relationship. There’s a scene near the end – and this is where I was drawn into the story again in a personal way – where she watches a married man, who has become a close friend, interact tenderly with his wife and family. It is clear that Lane’s character aches with longing to be in a relationship like that. I was ambushed by the emotions she portrayed and was transported back to that place in my own life.
Understand: I was a single parent for 18 years before I remarried five years ago. I raised my daughter alone and developed a deep, abiding dependency on Christ during that time thanks to prayer, a strong church and the support of committed Christian friends. If anyone understands that singleness can be rewarding and that Jesus is sufficient, it’s me.
But watching that scene, I remembered with painful clarity the times when I was single that I, too, ached for another chance at love; the times I gave in to self-condemnation, thinking that perhaps I just didn’t deserve it; and the feelings of resignation and sadness that I would probably grow old “alone”. That night, in front of the TV, I was there all over again and the intensity of my reaction caught me by surprise. I was reminded that we are truly created for relationship and that the longing to be loved is a universal one. I was also reminded of how crushing that desire can be.
Here’s what I concluded: We may acknowledge on an intellectual level that singleness is useful and honorable for the long haul – perhaps even preferable for some – and Christ can meet our needs. That is truth right out of the Bible. But we tend to believe that this applies to others, not to us. I may be wrong about this, but I think the majority of singles don’t really want to stay single, even with Jesus by their side; they want to be in a loving human relationship. And no amount of casting singleness in a more “spiritual” light – however valid and Biblical – is going to make them want to stay where they didn’t want to be in the first place.
Asking people to accept singleness as an acceptable long-term alternative to marriage may be a valid effort, but it still feels to many like the consolation prize (especially in the Christian community). And what happens is, singles spend so much energy trying to get out of being single, they miss the rare opportunities for growth where they are.
Perhaps singles would be better served by being encouraged to make the most of this time while they are single. What if we gave practical steps for singles to confirm their value, find healing, experience wholeness, and enjoy community while single in ways that simply aren’t possible while in a committed relationship? Think of it as “becoming singleful” – making the most of a unique time of life, whether it is for a season or a lifetime.
What do you think it would look like to become “singleful”? Do you know anyone you might call “singleful”?
Have you had a moment of clarity that shifted your thinking about an important issue? What led up to it and how did you respond?