Not married yet-ah?? These are the dreaded words confronting many a single. Often well meaning, they reinforce the belief that one is somewhat deficient until one is married. Singles know full well the occasions when the pressure will be on: weddings, wedding dinners, and New Year clan gatherings.
If you are single and Chinese you will get confronted with the awful: “this is the last year you get ang pows-ok??” during Chinese New year functions. (Traditionally, Chinese give ceremonial financial gifts called ang-pows during the Chinese New Year, but only to those who are not yet married.)
Churches also help to add on to the pressure. There are church leaders who actively pray for life partners for the singles in their congregations — and tell them so. The message is clear. You are not complete or normal until you are married. (The message is a somewhat more ambiguous for widows and divorcees.)
It doesn’t help that we live in a sex-saturated society where sex is everywhere in the entertainment media and in advertisements. (I need a cold shower after most MTV video clips.) Therefore we live in a state of almost constant subconscious sexual arousal. And for Christians, well, the only way we are going to get some is if we are married.
As a result of all these pressures, a few things may happen. One, people get stampeded into bad marriages. Two, singles spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and /or looking for, life partners. Or they go around wondering what’s wrong with them.
But what do the Scriptures actually say?
Marriage was the norm for human experience on this earth. It was a gift from God from the beginning (Genesis 1-2).
Marriage will no longer be needed in heaven (Matthew 22:23-33). I assume that whatever needs the marriage institution was meant to meet on earth will be met in other and better ways in the life to come.
As we live in between the ages, between this age and the age to come, both marriage and singleness are equally valid expressions of life in Christ (1 Corinthians 7:25-38). In fact, Paul seems to favour singleness but this stems more from practical concerns than from theological concerns. Paul expected that Christ would return in his lifetime and that there would be much tribulation and persecution just prior to His return.
Therefore there is no basis to treat singles as second-class citizens in the church. Instead we should affirm singleness as an equally valid expression of our life in Christ. I believe that a life partner is a gift from the Lord (Proverbs 19:14) and if and until such time that the Lord gives us a life partner, we need to learn to be complete in Christ.
Indeed it needs to be said that if someone is not complete in Christ, and is somehow hoping that a life partner will make life complete, he or she is putting divine expectations on any future partner that can only add more strains to what is already a tough calling. If you are not happy alone, it is unlikely that you will be happy hitched to another imperfect person.
It doesn’t help that we live in a society that is getting more and more lonely. Automation means that more and more, we will be interacting with machines rather than with people. And the pressure of the modern work place means that many of us will have little energy and time for meaningful relationships. This is potentially fatal to the spirit for single and married alike.
We may not all be married but we all need to be in significant relationships with significant others. We all need to be nurtured by the love and affection of others just as we need to be blessed by caring for others. We may not all end up with spouses but we all need good friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and other family relationships to be truly human.
Sometimes, our hunger for a life partner is really an expression of our hunger for God Himself. Which is why there are some people in good marriages who still feel that there is something missing from their lives. No spouse no matter how good can fill that place in our heart meant for God alone. And the loneliness of many singles can be addressed to some degree if they have an intimate healthy relationship with their Abba Father.
Then there are those who do not want to get married for various reasons. Some want to be free from the demands of marriage to be free to serve God in some special way or to pursue some other personal goal. Others have seen the destruction of bad marriages and are fearful that their marriage may turn bad. Others still are just fearful of commitments. Some may just be unwilling to pay the price needed to make a marriage work. Married or single, we all have to be accountable to the Lord for the choices we make.
But there are mysteries in life. There are some folks who would make excellent life partners, and who want to get married, but are still single. God never seems to bring the right partner into their lives. Why? I do not know. I fall back on the fact that we live in a fallen and imperfect world and that none of us will get all we should get, this side of heaven.
Life is also full of ironies. There are many in difficult marriages who wish they were single again. And there are the singles who long to get married, believing that marriage will make life worth living. Truth is, following Christ is tough for all of us, married or single. But we don’t have to make it tougher by putting unnecessary pressure on our singles.
The primary focus of our life is not marriage or the absence of it. It is God and His Kingdom. In the words of Jesus:
Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well. (Matthew 6:33 REB)
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan