By Brian Jennings
When I neared graduation from Ozark Christian College without a spouse, I wondered if they’d even give me a diploma. My roommates, however, found me to be the lucky charm. No fewer than six of them popped the big question while rooming with me. One day, I lamented this to Ken Idleman (former president of OCC). He said, “Brian, it’s better to be lonely than to wish you were lonely.” After that he never missed an opportunity to recommend that I get to know a girl of whom he thought highly. I dated some, but not even the president’s help would land me marital bliss.
Within a year after graduation, God gave me a beautiful gift. Her name is Beth. My journey in singleness was short-lived. But for many, the journey may last years or decades. For others, it may last a lifetime.
Perhaps if I would’ve known the stats, I would’ve felt less awkward when single. In 1976, 37 percent of adults over the age of 16 were single. Today, that number has skyrocketed to 50 percent. The average age for Americans getting married has reached a historic high: 27 for women and 30 for men.
Times have changed, but my friend Thomas isn’t convinced that singleness has become easier. Our friendship deepened when we began serving together in our church’s ministry with the poor. We also like to grab lunch at a place just a short walk from his graphic arts job. I’ve come to appreciate his humility, reliability, and dry humor. And I’m thankful that Thomas allowed me to visit with him for this article.
NOT THE GOAL
Thomas: Are you sure you want to interview me? Because singleness isn’t my goal.
Brian: Life’s curveballs are hard to hit, especially when it feels like they may strike out other life plans.
Thomas: True. That’s one of the big challenges. I’m more apt to think about those things when I walk into an empty house after a long day of work. It would be nice to share the ups and downs of my day with someone who cared for me. Making decisions and plans would be better with a wife, or at least that is what I tell myself.
Brian: That’s a plus in my book, but you hinted at some doubt.
Thomas: I figure that singleness would be better than rushing into a dysfunctional marriage. Unfortunately I’ve closely witnessed some miserable marriages. What’s that verse about how it’s better to live on the corner of the roof than to share a home with a nagging spouse?
Brian: I love that verse (Proverbs 25:24), but I’ve never been tempted to set up camp on our roof. Proverbs also imparts wisdom about relational and sexual traps. Both married and single guys should be reading it often.
Thomas: Our society is not set up for Christian, male singles. Everywhere you turn, temptation lurks. If the gift of singleness means that I can resist temptation all the time, then I don’t have the gift. Does any man?
Brian: It’s a struggle for all of us, I believe. But I hear what you’re saying. Paul states that people should get married if they can’t resist the temptations of singleness, but he didn’t offer an online dating platform.
STATE OF MIND
Thomas: I often catch myself thinking, Marriage is the only answer, so I must wait until then, but what if then never arrives? Deep down I know that marriage doesn’t fix everything, but I still feel like the odd man out.
Brian: I remember feeling awkward in social settings. (I actually still do sometimes, but it has nothing to do with singleness anymore.) Do you feel that, especially as it relates to singleness?
Thomas: Couples like to hang out with other couples. When they do ask me along, I feel like a fifth wheel. So that presents some issues.
Church can be tough too. I tried the whole “shopping around for churches because of their singles group” thing, but I just ended up feeling dirty. It felt like a cleaner version of hitting the meat market that I found in bars and nightclubs.
Large gatherings can be uncomfortable, no matter where I am. When a room is filled with families and children, I hear a whisper that I’ve somehow failed. Even family holidays can feel strange. When the world of parents revolves around their family, it’s hard for us to relate to each other.
Nobody’s trying to make me feel these things, they just come. I guess a lot of being single has to do with your state of mind—trying not to focus on being single.
IS IT A GIFT?
Brian: Paul said that being single was a gift. I can think of some people who prove this: St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, Amy Carmichael, Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, and C. S. Lewis (though he did marry near the end of his life). Plus Jesus! Do you ever view singleness, in spite of the struggles, as a gift?
Thomas: In my best moments, yes. I once asked myself what I could do for God as a single person. I chose to serve at my church as much as I could. I tried a couple different areas of service until I found my sweet spot.
Being single allows me to serve with an availability that married folks lack. Since I have no family obligations, I can volunteer on days that others might not be able to. I’m not obligated to any kid soccer games, and no one needs me to change a baby’s diaper. That’s a blessing, for sure.
Serving gives me a sense of purpose and direction. When I’ve avoided serving, I’ve struggled with feeling depressed. But when I serve, I’m filled with joy and ideas.
I’ve also made new friends, while learning from some godly couples about marriage, life, and prayer. I’ve seen people’s faith acted out, and it has encouraged me in my walk and broadened my perspective.
Brian: I think that serving with others is the best way to grow a friendship. I’ve seen you care for others and this last year, I saw that you were on the receiving end of care.
Thomas: You wouldn’t think that breaking a leg would be a blessing.
Brian: And by leg you mean femur. I feel like the readers need to know that you broke your femur and then drove yourself to the hospital! I don’t see any football players breaking their leg and then driving the cart off the field with their leg pointing the wrong direction, but I digress. How was it a blessing?
Thomas: I couldn’t do anything for myself. The help I received overwhelmed me. People took care of my house, drove me to work, brought me food, and called to check on me. I would’ve never experienced that care without the injury.
Brian: Is there any advice that you’d like to impart to single guys?
Thomas: When life is good, I have a song in my heart. I encourage others. I think positively. But I have to be intentional about getting my mind right. I can’t bow to the temptation of isolationism. I must serve. I must be with others, even if it might include an awkward moment or two. At my work, I have so many opportunities to give an encouraging word to others. I don’t want to miss those.
I ride the bus to work, which gives me the perfect time to read my Bible and pray. When I do this, I find myself praying throughout the day. Praising God for his creation also fills me up. I’ll notice a little flower growing in the crack on the sidewalk or a colorful insect that lives near the door of my house.
And I always talk to God before I go to sleep. OK, lots of times I fall asleep as I’m still talking, but I think that’s OK, especially if we’ve been chatting throughout the day.
Brian: Thank you for your vulnerability and wisdom. I believe many will be blessed by your words.
Thomas: You can thank me by publishing my phone number. Ha ha. Just kidding. I wasn’t sure if I was the right person for this, but I’m glad you asked.
Brian challenges church leaders to evaluate how singles are treated in their congregations. Read his thoughts here.
Brian Jennings is Lead Minister for Highland Park Christian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
SIDEBAR: Myths About Singleness
People believe a lot of false ideas about singleness. Do any of these fabricated beliefs creep into your actions, words, or attitude?
1. Singleness is holier than marriage.
2. Single people don’t understand God as well as married people.
3. Single parents are looking for someone to rescue them.
4. Single men are irresponsible.
5. Single women are weak.
6. God gives people spouses when they’re ready.
7. Single adults are afraid of making a commitment.
8. Single adults are lonely (and married adults aren’t).
9. The day-to-day lives of single people are less significant—life begins when you get married.
10. Single people want to get married more than anything.
These lies are crafty, so ask God to help you see clearly.