When I was a child, I only wanted one thing for my future: to be married.
This was the late 1990s and early 2000s, and I was being raised in a traditional church during the height of the “purity culture” movement. Like many of my counterparts, I eagerly consumed Disney movies and young adult fiction that framed the coming-of-age narrative around romance: choose the correct spouse and your happiness is assured. Well-meaning adults promised me that if I followed the rules and stayed “pure,” one day I would be rewarded with an epic romance of my own.
And I couldn’t wait. My self-worth—the vision I had for my future—was centered on the idea of getting married. If someone promised to love me forever, that meant that I was lovable. It meant that I was headed in the right direction. Singleness, by contrast, meant hanging out on the sidelines, waiting for my life to start. And to be called to singleness for the long term … well, that might be fine for the Apostle Paul, but for me it was the worst-case scenario.
I left high school and headed for college assuming that I would find my husband there. But as time passed, he still did not appear. I grew frustrated. I pleaded with God: Wasn’t I ready for marriage? How long did I have to wait?
In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller writes, “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshipping.” To be clear: marriage, rightly understood, is a wonderful blessing and calling from the Lord. The problem did not lie with the concept of marriage, but with my heart. By looking to it as a source of validation, I was twisting something God meant for good into an idol.
Then, about halfway through college, a combination of circumstances and heartbreak forced me to grapple with the conclusion that God’s will for me—at least for the time being—was to remain single. Slowly, painfully, He began to break my dependency on the marriage idol. And over the years, He has shown me some of the blessings of having your identity rooted not in human validation but in Christ.
First, belonging to Christ brings freedom. With marriage as an idol, my mental energy was eaten up by cycles of comparison and self-criticism. I was constantly wondering how I could make myself seem prettier, funnier, more interesting. But as I began to let go of my plans, I found that God was widening my horizons.
He revealed interests and aspirations that I had never known existed. For example, I found that I delight in traveling to new places—not because the anecdotes would make me seem cooler or more attractive, but because a love of adventure is part of my God-given makeup. Rather than shrinking my world, I found that submitting to God’s will opened it up to possibilities to which I had been blind.
Second, belonging to Christ brings increased love for His people. Previously I placed little value on platonic friendships, since those could not get me to my goal. As I grew in maturity, though, He began to show me the richness and the emotional fulfillment found in a group of close female friends. I learned to cherish opportunities to serve and be served by my community. I started to care more about wider justice issues. I began to see that just because I lacked a husband and family did not mean that I had to lack meaningful relationships.
Third, belonging to Christ brings confidence for the future. Although I love being single, I still desire to be married one day. Perhaps marriage is within His will—there is still plenty of time! But even if it is not, I take comfort knowing that God is faithful. Time and again, He has taken my loneliness, my desires, and my uncertainty and responded with blessings I could not have imagined. The life He assigns us may be difficult, but He will not give us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). He will not withhold what we need to flourish.
In Matthew 7, Jesus reminds us, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (v. 9-11) As I learned what it means to belong to Christ, I began to see singleness in a new way.
Not as the waiting room for real adulthood.
Not as a punishment.
Not as a worst-case scenario.
But as a good gift from a loving Father. As an adventure that offers its own experience of joy and purpose and fulfillment—albeit of a different kind than is offered by marriage. And as a reminder that my ultimate identity lies not in my relationship status, but in Christ.
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