Problems of a Single Life
We live in a couples-oriented society where the usual status is to be married. There is often a stigma attached to being single— many people seem to think that if a person is single there must be something wrong with that person! This is not a new idea. In the Old Testament the single life was considered undesirable (see Judges 11:38; Isaiah 4:1, and Jeremiah 16:9).
In Lesson 4 we discussed problems in social relationships. These are problems which are faced by all people, whether single or married. In Lesson 5 we dealt with problems in family life. The person living alone, or without a mate, has in addition special problems to deal with, such as greater loneliness, depression, fear, facing decisions alone, the need for love and affection, and sexual desires that must be kept under control.
The single life does not have to be a negative experience. The single person is described in Scripture as a special gift to the church (Matthew 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 7:7). In this lesson we will discover some very positive values of the single life, and how they can contribute to a satisfying and meaningful lifestyle for the single person. And we will find that the single person does not have to cope with his problems alone—not only does he have the help of his divine Problem Solver, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, but the church can also be a wonderful source of help and strength!
Defining The Problems
Single persons are defined in our society as those who are unmarried. They fall into three categories:
1. Those who have never married.
2. Those who are divorced.
3. Those who are widowed.
1. Those who have never married. In many parts of the world the extended family normally provides shelter and companionship for the unmarried adults in the family. But many adults are now moving away from their families and into the cities for employment or other reasons. For the first time in their lives, they are alone, away from the protection and society of their family.
Mary Jeanne is 28 years old and unmarried. She has moved to the city to find employment and lives alone in a small apartment. She is working as a secretary and has found a church to attend. But she is very unhappy. She says, “Most of my friends are married so they don’t often include me in their activities. I spend most of my time alone, except when I am working or in church. Sometimes I feel so lonely I cry myself to sleep. No one really cares about me. I want to be loved, to have a family and children.”
Susan, who is 38 years old and unmarried, says, “I don’t really mind being single most of the time. I enjoy my work, and I am involved in many activities at church. I sing in the choir, teach a Sunday school class, and enjoy working with people. Certainly I would like to be married and have a family. There have been opportunities for marriage, but they did not seem to be right for me. I have committed my future to God, and I will accept His plan for my life. My main problem is that people are always teasing me about being single, or telling me that I should get married in order to have a fulfilled life. There is so much pressure in our society to be married! It makes me feel that there is something wrong with me, that I shouldn’t be happy as a single person.”
Robert is a young man who would like to marry, and who has had several opportunities to develop fine relationships with Christian girls. But each time a relationship has developed to the point where he was seriously considering marriage, he has become afraid and has stopped seeing the girl. His explanation is, “Marriage is a great responsibility, and I’m afraid I will make a terrible mistake, or that I won’t be able to provide for a family as I should. I’m not sure I’m ready to commit the rest of my life to another person.”
Another man in his 40s has chosen not to marry because he must care for his aged mother, who has been in poor health for many years. Although he would like very much to marry, he does not feel that he should burden a wife with the care and medical expense that he considers is his responsibility alone.
These four examples illustrate special problems of many people who have never married, such as a low self-image, a feeling of rejection, pressures to marry, fear of responsibility, a desire for a family, lack of interest in planning for the future, a desire to be needed. And single women often feel that people take advantage of them because they have no husband to protect them.
2. Those who are divorced. We have discussed divorce in greater detail in Lesson 5. Our emphasis in this lesson is the problems faced by a divorced person as a single person.
Margaret was divorced by her husband, who has since remarried. This is her story: “I loved my husband very much, but after I became a Christian he began to spend more and more time away from home. He wanted to do things that I felt a Christian should not do. Even though I tried to keep our marriage happy, he decided to divorce me. I feel sad and guilty that our marriage broke up, and I feel rejected by the person I trusted most. Now I have to work to take care of my two children, and I feel that people are critical of me because I am divorced. I am ashamed to face people at church. How can I make a happy home for my children now that I am alone?”
The divorced person may have feelings of rejection, or of being judged harshly. He or she may also experience suffering, loss of hope, a sudden change of lifestyle, or will have the sole responsibility for the care of children. A divorced person may also have to deal with problems of anger, bitterness, resentment, loneliness, and the grief of a loss.
3. Those who are widowed. A friend of mine was widowed following her husband’s lengthy illness. She had cared for him constantly during the final months of his illness. Now she says, “My life is so empty. I have nothing worthwhile to do, and nothing to live for. My husband was my whole life. I feel I have lost my identity. My mind is filled with memories of my husband’s painful illness. My children are married and do not live near me. No one needs me now.”
A man who was widowed told me, “One of my greatest problems is the loneliness I feel when I go home to an empty house. I have lost weight, because I have no desire to prepare food and eat it alone.”
This illustrates some of the problems of the widowed person: grief, loneliness, a drastic change of lifestyle, perhaps financial difficulties or adjustments (especially for a woman), having nothing to live for, feeling abandoned. The need for love and affection is a universal need. Everyone wants to be needed by someone.
Values Of A Single Life
Before we look for solutions to the problems that single persons may have, let’s look at some of the values of a single life as revealed in God’s Word. These values may give us insight as to possible solutions.
1. The single life is an approved alternative to marriage. In speaking of the single life, we are talking about the single person who has no sexual involvement, or who is celibate. We will discuss celibacy in more detail in Lesson 7, in our discussion of human sexuality.
Because of the possibility of distress in the world, and of the everyday troubles that married people may have, the apostle Paul suggested that single people were probably better off to remain single. Unmarried people are free from the worries and problems that come to those who have families to be responsible for (1 Corinthians 7:26-32). He did not say this to put anyone under bondage to remain single, but to suggest it as a good thing for those who do wish to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:35).
2. The single life is a special gift. The single or celibate state is maintained by those who have a gift for it. I believe this is a gift that God will freely give to any single person who needs it, when he needs it, and for as long as he needs it. Jesus, and later Paul, mentioned this gift aspect of both singleness and marriage. God loves you and me. He has made provision for all of our needs, whatever they may be, and at whatever time in life we have particular need for His provision. Here is what Jesus replied to His disciples when they suggested that perhaps it was better not to marry:
Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it (Matthew 19:11-12—italics mine).
The single person who gives up marriage so he can devote his time to building up the kingdom of heaven is a special gift to the church. I know several dedicated men and women who had opportunities to marry but chose rather to spend their time in gospel ministry, some on a mission field far from their homeland. They made this choice because they knew that, for them, it would otherwise not be possible to carry out the work God had called them to do. The apostle Paul is an example of such a person. He said, “Actually, I would prefer that all of you were as I am; but each one has a special gift from God, one person this gift, another one that gift” (1 Corinthians 7:7 TEV).
3. The single life is an opportunity. Notice that in the preceding section Jesus is quoted as mentioning some who do not marry “because of the kingdom of heaven.” Paul also emphasizes this reason for choosing the single life in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. He points out that an unmarried man is free to concern himself with the Lord’s work, while a married man is pulled in two directions. In the same way, a married woman is concerned with pleasing her husband (and rightfully so), but an unmarried woman is free to give herself completely to the Lord’s service without holding back anything. It is true that every Christian is called to be completely dedicated to the Lord. For those who are single, however, there are opportunities for expressing this dedication which are not available to those who have the responsibility of caring for a family.
Those who have chosen not to marry in order to devote themselves fully to God’s work will find that He helps them continually to commit all their needs to Him and serve Him wholeheartedly. And His reward to those who make such a commitment is great: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
Deciding Whether To Marry
Some people who are single feel they have not chosen to be single. The divorcee in the example we gave earlier did not choose to be divorced. The widow certainly did not choose to be widowed. These are problems over which they had no control. The person who has never married may not choose to remain single. What of such people?
We have already emphasized that God’s grace is sufficient for every problem that we face. He does not ask us to bear more than we are able to bear. Every trial we face is an opportunity for us to draw closer to God, and to experience His love and care. Here is another occasion when we must identify our problem, commit it to God, and expect Him to work for our good. He will never fail us.
The pressure to get married from within oneself, or from others, often causes people to use unrighteous means to achieve marriage, or to settle for a mate instead of God’s mate. Don’t settle for second best! God’s will is that we should first be godly, not first married.
Timing is important to every aspect of the Lord’s program for our lives. Marriages planned too quickly or before a person is really prepared have failed for this reason. Sometimes the partners have been wrong for one another, or perhaps they have been too immature to handle the pressures of married life. The Lord can and will provide for meeting the social needs of singles through the Christian community of brothers and sisters in Christ. Single persons should never be pressured into relationships that are not the Lord’s will. All of us, whether married or single, should work at developing and maintaining strong, mature Christian character. We talked about this in Lesson 4. God’s standards are the same whether you are married or single. Thus, if God directs a single life into marriage, the foundation for it will be well established.
One Christian woman rejected two offers of marriage because she did not believe they were God’s direction for her life. God had called her into a special ministry which would have been impossible if she had accepted either marriage proposal. For ten years she faithfully served the Lord. But as she neared the age of 40 the years of loneliness, the hurtful remarks of well-meaning people, and the thought of facing old age alone caused her to become desperate. At that moment in her life she met a man who was not a Christian and she allowed a relationship to develop. Eventually she married him, even though he made it clear that he was not interested in becoming a Christian. She is no longer involved in Christian ministry. Her time is devoted to trying to make a happy home in a divided household.
I know an elderly missionary woman who spent her youth and her middle age alone in a remote African village. For many years when there were no male missionaries available for that area, she labored alone in Bible school work and evangelism. She did this because she knew it was God’s will for her life. At the age of 64, when she was in her homeland preparing for her final term of service in Africa, she met a retired missionary widower. Their love for each other grew, and shortly after her return to the mission field, he followed her. They were married in her adopted land, and they are now working together preaching the gospel and training Christian workers.
In telling me about this change in her life, she said, “I have been surprised by joy!” God blessed her dedication and faithfulness in a very special way. Certainly over the years she experienced much loneliness, discouragement, rejection, financial needs, and insecurity. But she chose eternal values over earthly values, and God did not forget her.
Should the single, widowed, or divorced person seek marriage? We have already seen that there is no scriptural teaching which forbids marriage for a single person who has never been married. The apostle Paul does encourage widows not to remarry, but they are permitted to marry if they so choose (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).
Facing Special Problems
Did you notice in the illustrations of the two single women given earlier in this lesson that one was happy and the other was not, although their circumstances were very similar? This would indicate that their problems were not outside of themselves, but within themselves. Here are some guidelines which will help you in finding solutions to the problems you face as a single person.
1. Look within yourself. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can change the way you look at them! Remember that the joy of the Lord is your strength! “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
2. Recognize your position in Christ. He gave His life for you! He loves you, and you are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). You are His special gift to the church. Take advantage of the special freedom you have to give yourself in His service. Thank Him for giving you this opportunity to be of service to Him, and be all you can be for Him.
3. Get involved in helping others. There are many people who are more lonely, more depressed than you are, who are suffering more than you. Look for ways to lighten their load. Be sociable. Keep busy—always have something to look forward to.
A friend of mine is a widow. For several months after her husband died she just went through the motions of living. She dreaded getting up in the morning, and forced herself through the routines of the day. She just wanted to get through each day so that she could lose herself in sleep again. Gradually she began to realize that this kind of life was not pleasing to God. She repented of her attitude of self-pity, and asked God to help her fill her life with useful activities. Now every evening before going to sleep she makes a list of the things she will do the next day. First on her list is a time alone with God in Bible reading, meditation, and prayer. She allows a certain amount of time for her daily chores, and then plans some activity which will help someone else—such as a visit to the hospital, visitation for the pastor, a dish of food for someone who is sick or in need, or a helping hand for a busy mother. Now she has something to look forward to every day. Her life is full and happy. She is gaining new friendships continually. She has turned her sorrowful condition into an opportunity to accomplish things of eternal value. She needed no special talents to do this—she just used the gifts God had given her.
Perhaps you must work at an unpleasant or time-consuming job to earn a living, and do not have as much free time as this widow. Use your job as an opportunity to show the love of Christ. Think of ways that you can honor Him in your job. As you concentrate on Him, He will fill your life with joy and peace.
4. Increase your Bible reading, meditation, and prayer time. I know a widow who sometimes comes home from a hard day of work tired, alone, discouraged because of the pressures of the day, and feeling a deep sadness and loneliness for her husband. She has learned to overcome these bad times. The cure? Reading from God’s Word! Read it out loud, read it at every opportunity you have. Listen to the Bible being read on tape or record. Somehow get it into your mind, and the atmosphere changes by the power of the living Christ! His Word brings comfort to the brokenhearted. It brings rest for the weary. It brings hope to the hopeless. It will lift you above your burdens and give you strength for tomorrow. Let God speak to you through His Word, and in your times of prayer and waiting before Him. He will fill your heart to overflowing as His love flows through you.
5. Finally, apply Christian principles for solving your problems that we have given in the first unit of this study. If there is a definite solution, God will show you the answer as you apply yourself to the problem. If you can see no solution at the present time, commit the problem to God, and trust Him to work for your good. You can live a victorious, joyful Christian life no matter what your circumstances may be. And the greater your trials, the greater will be your testimony to others as you allow God to work out His will for you with an attitude of trust and obedience.
How The Church Can Help
Recently I read this advertisement in a church bulletin: “Come to our new class for singles, ages 19 to 90, whether single by default or design.” By default implies that you are single because nobody wanted you; by design implies that you chose to be single. This statement reveals a great deal of insensitivity to the needs and personal dignity of the single person. This church had the intention of helping those who were alone, but it lacked understanding of the people it was trying to reach, and how to help them.
Another church has a Bible study class for “Pairs and Spares.” Pairs, of course, implies married couples. Spares has the implication of being left over, not needed. The church can have a very effective and important ministry to the single person. In the epistles Christians are encouraged many times to minister one to the other. Here are some examples:
Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” James 5:16 “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Romans 12:5, “So in Christ we who are many form one 10, 13, 15 body, and each member belongs to all the others. . . . Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. . . . Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
Philippians 2:4 “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
One church has encouraged each family group within the church to “adopt” one of the single members, and include that person often in family meals, recreation times, or other ways of sharing. Another church arranges the members in groups of 10 to 15, including both families and singles, and these groups meet often for times of fellowship and sharing. The groups are reorganized every three months so that the people in the church get to know others that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to know.
For younger single persons special times for Bible study, sharing, and fellowship directed toward their specific needs can be helpful. Older single persons may feel more comfortable in a class with a mixture of married and single persons.
The best way the married believers can help is to develop a sensitivity to the feelings and special needs of the single believers. Avoid demeaning labels such as “old maid” or “unclaimed blessing.” Involve single adults in meaningful church activities where their talents can be used. Take advantage of (but don’t abuse) their freedom to devote more of their time to acts of ministry. They can be a marvelous aid to the pastor and other leaders in the church. Look especially for those who tend to be withdrawn and timid about getting involved. They may be suffering an unbearable hurt and need to be reassured that they are loved.
A popular song contains, among others, these words:
I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.
This poem is sounds like the cry of a single person who has been deeply hurt by relationships in life. Christ taught us that we should get involved with people, even at the risk of being betrayed by some. The gain is far greater than any possible loss.
Married believers who will take time to develop friendships with single persons of all ages will be richly rewarded by adding to their own lives new attitudes and new understanding about the rich variety to be found in God’s creation. Everyone should remember that the basis for Christian fellowship is not a person’s social or marital status, but the fact that he or she belongs to Christ. We can learn and be blessed by the lives of others!