I’ve had conversations recently with Christian friends who are single, and I sense in their voices the frustrations: the glib apologetics to view singleness as a gift; extended family members’ not-so-subtle prompts to ‘settle down;’ and feelings of being overlooked or undervalued in their local churches.
If this is you, my guess is that you know the “right” answers today and every day. You’ve likely wrestled with what you believe and feel you have your theology worked out as it relates to seasons of singleness and marriage.
But some of my close friends have been honest with me that this knowledge can fall short when friends have dinner reservations with significant others or roommates have waiting for them on your doorstep a vase with several red roses and a small stuffed puppy with a heart sown to its lips.
Last week, I came across 1 Corinthians 7 in which Paul (the writer of 1 Corinthians) promotes singleness. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians made me ask, “How do his words inform both my season of marriage and my friends’ season of singleness?”
If you are single and still reading, I am certain of this: you and I share the same Valentine today and every day. Because in every season—married or single—our greatest Valentine as followers of Jesus is always Jesus.
As I read Paul’s words about singleness, I was convinced they are just as much for me as they are for you. The goal of our lives in Christ is never all-out devotion to singleness or marriage but to the Valentine of our souls:
The soul that wholly loves its Maker—the One who loves it most—is “free from anxieties” and “undivided” in its devotion.
Yes, dating and marriage distract from and compete for the soul’s affections, and this is what Paul seems to be driving home. But single or married, the soul’s purpose is unchanging.
I think through this as I read: singleness or marriage must not be the gift itself. No, the gift must be more. Maybe the gift is ultimately this freedom from anxiety. Maybe it’s this fixed devotion to our Maker in this weary world with all of its expiration dates:
The gift is the “get-to”—to experience and participate in God’s kingdom here and now and to know that you and I are living for something beyond Valentine’s Days. Dozens of roses droop as February fades into March. Half-eaten boxes of chocolates go to waste, melting in kitchen trashcans or backseats of vehicles. Spouses disappoint when workdays are too demanding. Texts fade out with realizations of incompatibility. Husbands and wives are taken too soon. Disappointment stirs and stews as well-meaning extended family tells you your biological clock is ticking. Companions fall short when they don’t fully know or understand you.
But there is a Valentine who is a sure and steadfast anchor for both the single and married soul (Hebrews 6:19). There is a God capable of fully knowing yet fully loving you and me. This is the identity of the single and married souls in Christ on Valentine’s Day and every day.
And still, theology takes time to travel from the head to the heart.
But this is what I know:
Your season—single or married—is no holding place for future fairytales or children or ministry opportunities. It is a giving space for God’s present love and promises and purpose for your life.
Your spiritual stature is not defined by your relationship status with some one but by your relationship with the One who spoke the stars and galaxies into existence yet speaks into your soul today.
Yeah, theology takes time to travel from the head to the heart. This is why Paul recognizes both the mourning and rejoicing that we will inevitably face, even if we know what we see isn’t all that is.
One of my favorite gifts is a beautiful bouquet, and I am an all-out celebrator of Valentine’s Day. But isn’t it ironic that we honor a saint by the name of “Valentine”—martyred in his pursuit of following Jesus—with cheap chocolates and stuffed animals that oftentimes find their way in our cardboard boxes with “Goodwill” written on their sides.
Singleness is not the gift, and marriage is not the goal. A soul undivided in its affections for the One who unfailingly loves it back? This is the gift. And it’s the sweetest gift, even when theology feels inadequate on Valentine’s Day.