Finding a calling in singleness and not living in limbo

I appreciated Sam Allberry’s paragraph acknowledging that many people feel like life hasn’t started until they’re married (7 Myths about Singleness, p.44).

Is this a particular struggle for young ladies? I always expected to be a full-time wife and mother like my mother was. This is a noble calling (1 Timothy 5:14), but I never got married.

I’ve watched other young ladies struggle with this. They focused on preparing to be homemakers but didn’t find husbands. It can be hard knowing whether to go into debt attending college to prepare for a career they don’t want or to engage in short-term projects while waiting for a mate.

Have any of you struggled with similar decisions? What helped you refocus on ministry as a single when you didn’t find a mate? How can we mentor the young ladies in our lives so that they value the calling of full-time motherhood but still have skills and passion for a career and ministry apart from marriage?

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@Jennifer_Wilkinson. Here is my 50 cents. :slight_smile: Perhaps the greatest thing we could do for the young is to resist the temptation to define living via social norms. In CHRIST there is neither male nor female, greek or jew and etc. I must conclude married and unmarried rises to the same level of import.

For purposes of organizing itself humanity labels itself. Casting honor upon the most popular label. But in working with children I never encourage them to know any more than the will of GOD for their lives.

Some I know will be mothers. Some will be ministers of the Gospel. Some will be executives. Some will be in athletics. Some will be teachers. Some will be medical professionals. Or fry cooks. Or a janitor. Some may even find their calling and death among the poor of India. But nothing surpasses the joy and peace of living fully and holy before GOD.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” When I read that statement in Matthew 6, then I know that waiting means something more than waiting on GOD to fulfill my desire. I understand my desire is additional and redefined by my persistence in seeking first, the kingdom of GOD.

I think when roles or careers are directed by GOD, there is never an issue of settling. There is only the noblesse of knowing that your ways please the Lord. We can help our children and young ladies in particular when we refocus attention on a relationship with GOD. It is that relationship that makes us the best what-so-ever, and most fulfilled in life. It is that focus that makes everything in life arrive as an addition to successful living.

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Jennifer,

I read that book too and found it really challenging and helpful. It made me realize that although I consider the church corporate my family, I wasn’t integrating many into my nuclear family, particularly those that don’t have one of their own. This was most painfully impressed on me when a co-volunteer at my church, a single middle-aged male that most would consider ugly but who had a loving heart of gold, killed himself due to aloneness and depression. I was happy to share church work with him but had no interaction with him outside of church. It still breaks my heart and makes me consider what I should have done to connect with him more. Another is a converted lesbian, who like Sam has committed her life to Jesus and celibacy but does not have a family of her own (deceased parents and no siblings). After reading Sam’s book, it lead me to hug her and let her know I love her and sit and talk with her whenever I see her (Sam’s book made me consider the lack of human touch and affection that many experience while single and that the church family needs to function as a true family). I am seeking ways to integrate her into some family events too. I am finding that the Lord has opened my eyes to those in our congregation that don’t have family like her but who also are not experiencing true family in the church.

But, I believe at a deeper level, most churches have done a poor job of teaching the truth that some are called to singleness and that those people are the ones that can exhibit undistracted devotion to the Lord and be precious, valuable members of the body. Too often, it seems that an adult singles cloister develops that the larger church body doesn’t know how to address or integrate with, which is a shame. I believe that as Rhodes has done above, helping members understand even as youths that there are several paths in God’s calling and that there’s nothing embarrassing or necessarily missing for singles but instead it can provide a more special relationship to the Lord than distracted married people commonly experience would be beneficial. (Heck, if singles could spend a week living at my house with the conflicting schedules and personalities and emotions, I think many would consider it may not be all it’s made out to be! I bet my kids have taken 10 years off my life.)

In regard to limbo, helping people understand that keeping the main thing the main thing is important. Devotion to and communion with God is the main thing and that relationship is to be pursued with intention and dedication. Other relational pursuits are secondary and forcing a bad one can be a disaster.

What are your thoughts? What have you done in your own life or in your church?

Kevin

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@kumquat, your openness touches me. Thank you. I had the same reaction to Sam’s book that you did—I realized I wasn’t doing enough to reach out to the singles in my church. This surprised me because I’m one of the singles. But I live with my parents and sisters, so I still have a nuclear family, and Sam has opened my eyes to the needs of the singles who are living alone.

I agree with 7 Myths about Singleness that we shouldn’t view singleness as a special calling that certain people have. On the other hand, I do believe motherhood is a very special calling, equal to full-time ministry and foreign missions. I am so blessed by watching my friends who are mothers. The tenderness they exhibit as they guide their children is a work of the Spirit.

I think many young women feel a strong calling to be mothers. When they don’t get married, it can be confusing for them. The best comparison I can think of is being positive you’re called to the foreign mission field but running into a roadblock at the last minute. Suddenly, you need a career to pay the bills and a ministry on the home front. It’s puzzling and sometimes painful to figure this out.

I dealt with this somewhat in my twenties. My college degree (music) didn’t set me up for a well-paying job. Thankfully, I could live with my parents and work at a Christian bookstore while I tried to figure things out.

A phrase from I Kissed Dating Good-Bye comes to mind as I think about that time in my life. I know there has been controversy about that book recently, but I still think Joshua Harris said it best when he described his mother telling him, “Hustle while you wait.” In other words, don’t stand around waiting for supper. Set the table.

I took my extra free time in those years to study apologetics and children’s ministry and to write. I see how God used those years of preparation for what I’m doing now.

The best thing my church did for me was to get me involved in ministry when I was in elementary school. I started doing special music in church soon after I started music lessons. When I was in fourth grade I got to tell a story to the toddler class at church once a month. By my mid-twenties I had fifteen years of experience serving in the church, so I had a good idea what to do with my free time even though I felt like I was in limbo.

My heart aches when the parents of my music students tell me that children don’t play musical instruments in their churches. It’s much harder to start serving in your twenties if you didn’t get to do anything before that.

I’m also blessed by the fact that my current church doesn’t have a singles group. When we do things, the singles and married couples are all mixed together, and the focus is on God and what He is doing, not on our state of life.

I was a little surprised by the emotions the surfaced in my heart as I’ve tried to discuss this. I’m very happy serving God as a single, but when the tears come to my eyes, I think of 2 Samuel 24:24, where David said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” I know I’m taking this verse out of context, but it reminds me that the moments when singleness seems to cost me the most are the moments when it is a beautiful gift I can give to God.

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I love your observations Kevin. Too often I’m focused on my hurts and finding ways to meet my needs, that I could so easily overlook someone else’s longing for relationship. I hear God’s voice in your words and am going to shift gears. I know that if I’m feeling that lack of closeness with others, that others are also feeling the same, and I can offer that friendship. Thank you for sharing.

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Jennifer,

One of my best friends, Tom, became a believer in elementary school (I didn’t until late in college) and got involved in the youth group after he graduated college. He married at 38, so he had about 15 gap years in which he stayed active with the youth and college ministries. He would provide either a Friday night or Saturday night at his house for socializing - no bible study or prayer - just a safe place with video games, board games and a place to hang out and talk. And, he would not give a general ask to the group, but a specific invitation to the youths - “Mike, you haven’t come before. I would love to hang out! Here’s my address. We’ll be there from 6-10 and probably order pizza. Hope you’ll come.” He would have 8-10 show about every week and he loved on them simply by making time for them, providing a safe place and being there without hovering and smothering them.

Most of those youths are believers and have stayed connected with the church. The ones that didn’t participate at all have mostly left the church. He most likely could not have had the impact he did, if he weren’t single and able and willing to do life with those young men and women.

Early in my faith, I mistakenly thought the Christ life was about pursuit of knowledge. I now know that it is about pursuit of relationship - both with other believers and God through Jesus. There is a desperate need for relationship in our churches that extends beyond services/Sunday School classes and, I believe, that adult singles are uniquely positioned to affect such. In fact, they may be the glue that helps the body cohere as they can connect to the varying groups in a church.

I find in my own life that if I’m even a half hour late for dinner it cascades through my household. I am not commonly in control of my own schedule and thereby impeded from unplanned service/ministry too often.

Singleness is not without its challenges but Paul’s comments regarding it ring true.

Honor to you in the Lord, sister!

Kevin

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@Jennifer_Wilkinson Thanks for starting this topic! And thanks to everyone contributing to the conversation (@Ter @kumquat @cer7…) for your candor and insights. I have just started into the podcast on @Sam_Allberry’s 7 Myths of Singleness, and had all sorts of moments driving down the freeway saying hearty amen’s like a one-girl gospel choir as @Ivy_Tyson and @Shawn_Hart bring out some of the gems from Sam’s insightful discussion on singleness.

Already in my late teens I was in a full confrontation with the limbo situation. In the throes of my deliberations, I realized that there was no inviolable biblical promise that I would be married (despite the nigh unanimous consensus of Christian subculture). For all my uncertainties about my calling, I became confident that one thing I was not called to do was to put off living, put off developing vision for life apart from my longed for happily-ever-after, or put off giving myself unreservedly to Christ (like, actually—no holds barred).

Living into this unsettling conviction has been transformative over the years. It hasn’t made it smooth sailing by any means (the Lord knows, lol!), but it has brought me back again and again to my fundamental call to follow Christ, to my identity as a disciple. Yes, God has made us relational. We need people. Absolutely. But this hardly amounts to us needing a romantic relationship / marriage partner to be a whole person, spiritually mature, fulfilled, etc. I wish I had grown up with a more compelling vision of Christian personhood and spiritual maturity that didn’t require being married. Somehow, you were sort of “on the bench” until you were established as a householder. I think this is a false step (and not biblically sustainable in light of Jesus, Paul, et al)…and seriously contributes to the limbo syndrome.

@Jennifer_Wilkinson This is a practical area I think we can do better in furnishing the imagination of young people. If I can’t image myself as a fulfilled and fruitful single mature man or woman, sharing heartily in the church’s ministry and community…I will undoubtedly struggle if my path doesn’t lead me to marriage (and quick!) We are really limited by our imagination here. And it is not just women; several of my guy friends are really struggling with this as well. To desire marriage is good; to be lost at sea because we do not receive what we desire…well, I think we might profit by reflecting on that a bit.

The reality is that we rarely choose our own road of discipleship. Thats never really been a part of the deal. I wonder, do we truly value being conformed to image of Christ? Is that a precious vision to us? I have been convicted that parts of my life demonstrate that I am not consistently persuaded that this is my highest good. Do we trust God (do we dare?) to choose and direct the way in which Christ is formed in us?

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True! I’m pretty sure married folks are commonly more interested in being conformed to the image of an acceptable mate than to the image of Christ. In many things those line up but when tension emerges between spousal desires and conformance to Christ, spouse wins. Some say the interests of spouses and Christ will always align but such has not been my experience or observation.

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Well, Paul certainly seems to agree with you:) I took a course with Wesley Hill this past summer and it really shifted my paradigm on marriage and singleness. The premise that stuck with me is that marriage and celibacy are both paths of sanctification through ascesis (self-denial), binding us to love and service of another.

Just because the marriage path permits the sexual expression of intimacy does not mean it is not a path of self-denial and sacrifice (as married people are quick to testify!) Each path has its benefits / freedoms and its liabilities / obligations. Both paths are valid modes of Christian discipleship which Christians throughout history have embraced as God’s means of sanctifying us through relational love and service to one another.

Granted, celibacy has most typically been practiced in organized communities (monasteries, etc.) and by those committed to it long term—not as the prolonged I-hope-this-is-temporary singleness common among us. But I think even a temporary (if longer than we desire) sojourn in singleness can be really fruitful if we can catch a vision for being formed in the image of Christ and begin to love what he loves!

Wesley Hill’s teaching on all this was a real blessing to me, and has proven helpful for many same-sex attracted brother and sisters. Has anyone read his book, Washed and Waiting?

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Part of the struggle I’ve had for some time now is this:

Despite developing profound true friends, I would still have episodes of loneliness under the following circumstances:

  1. All of my friends are either married, engaged, or in a relationship that would eventually lead to the ultimate commitment.
  2. They span from different groups of friends. Church friendships, all developed since my youth, have married. Colleagues that exemplify profound companionship have found their partner.
  3. I share a small bias, of which, if one is in a serious relationship, time and attention are sacrificed from many things, to support the growth with the significant other. In this case, I am likely to be pushed down their priority list.
  4. The friendship isn’t really dissolved. I completely understand and approve the shift of attention. However, I can’t share as much of my time because I believe most things that friends do, can be done when the significant other is there.
  5. The sense of “limbo” is not caused by the lack of true friends-but rather by the thought that-those shoes of companionship have already been filled for my married friends and I’m no longer needed.
  6. In turn, leaves me through two state of being; loneliness due to lack of opportunity for me to be there for them, bitterness due to the belief that when I am there for them but they cannot be there for me (understandably so-due to marriage).

Again, these are episodes. Focusing on the truth revealed by the Word helps me get back on track onto becoming a devoted Christian. Unfortunately, it doesn’t eliminate the days where I ask God: “When is my time? What am I missing? Am I called to be single for x amount of time? Understanding that singleness is possible, why do my emotions dictate otherwise?”

I hope this reaction can be relatable to someone to some extent!

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Thank you for sharing your experiences, Oscar. What you’re saying sounds a lot like what Sam described in 7 Myths about Singleness. I don’t remember which chapter talks about friendships with married couples because I enjoyed the book too much, so I read it straight through before Season 2 of Cover to Cover began.

I found that part of the book convicting because my job and ministries are keeping me so busy I’m hardly available for my single friends. You are reinforcing God’s message to me that I need to be a better friend. I don’t know what that will look like in the months to come, but I pray that God gives me wisdom to be the sister in Christ that my friends need.

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Thanks to all of you who are contributing to this discussion. Talking this over with you is helping me clarify what I was thinking when I posted the question. I’ve realized my original question was closely connected to the debate over women in ministry.

I don’t recall ever seeking my identity or fulfillment in marriage, but I grew up in conservative circles where marriage was often seen as a woman’s path to ministry. This left me with questions to answer when I was still single in my 20s.

I’ve never done a serious study of the verses about women’s role in the church. I still find traditional gender roles beautiful in the family and the church, and I’m involved in so many ministries now that I don’t feel like I have time to study the topic.

However, this discussion also led me to realize I understood God’s calling all along—He did intend for me to be a full-time mother. He just wants me to be like Amy Carmichael and not Susanna Wesley. In other words, I’m privileged to pour my heart into children on a daily basis. They’re just not mine biologically.

If I’m going to mentor the young ladies in my life, I need more confidence that I understand what the Bible says about women in ministry, so I’ll be investigating it, starting with the resources that Sean shared at Resources for Studying Women In Ministry.

If you want to share thoughts or resources that you find helpful, please post on the resources topic Sean started or on Women and Church Leadership in the Daily Evangelism category. Thanks!

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I love your recognition here of the reality of spiritual family:

He did intend for me to be a full-time mother. He just wants me to be like Amy Carmichael and not Susanna Wesley. In other words, I’m privileged to pour my heart into children on a daily basis. They’re just not mine biologically.

My path has not been a conventional one and I have found myself mentoring young adults for nearly two decades. I sometimes joked with my ministry coleaders that we were raising teenagers… and while they were only with us for several months to a couple years, there was real truth in the jest. We gave our lives to them in deep and formative ways, living together for months—and they are literally what I have to show for all those years! Not my own brood to have and to hold, but a constellation of lives that have been shaped by encountering Jesus with me, alongside me, through me.

For this reason I just loved the most recent episode of Cover to Cover where @Shawn_Hart and @Ivy_Tyson hit the chapter on family. Their discussion (and Sam’s book) challenge us to take entirely seriously the familial language of the Scriptures concerning the people of God. I think the Bible’s radical exhortation to spiritual family absolutely challenges the way we culturally (yes, even Christian culture) construe and enact family…and it is both hard news and such good news. Very excited for conversations on the next episode…but I don’t want to jump the tracks and get that topic underway here.

But really loved that personal connection to your experience, @Jennifer_Wilkinson, and look forward to how that will lend insight to your contribution to discussion around the next episode!

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I also loved the episode on family, so I created a new topic where we can discuss it, As a single, how can I support the families in my church?. I’d love to know about your experiences mentoring young adults. Most of my experience in the church has been with children, but I want to do more for the teens.

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Hi @Jennifer_Wilkinson, I probably could choose a better term than young adults…I forgot that for some people that means youth or teens! I actually worked with 18-25 years olds, so I guess I’d be better to say college students. My experience with teens and children is much more limited:)

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