The singles in your church are hurting. Many (dare I say most?) of them have a strained relationship with the church.
There’s Pain in Your Pews
Since writing a book on singleness, I hear from singles often. Here’s what one thirty-nine-year-old woman has to say:
I’m convinced there is something very wrong with me! I feel like a complete outcast in each and every church. The weird thing is I don’t feel that way at work, which is a completely secular environment. Lately I’ve been crying all weekend and so grateful to be able to go to work on Monday morning because I know I’m valued and wanted there and I know I am contributing something as well.
This woman isn’t the only single who feels like an oddity in church. You might be tempted to think, Oh, toughen up! You think marriage is easy? But here’s why their hurt is our problem, too.
It’s a Family Responsibility
If you’ve placed all your trust in Christ as your righteousness, you’re now a tiny but vital member of His family and of His Body. There are millions upon millions of other members, and what impacts each of these people impacts you because we’re one now. Paul tells us:
But God has so composed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor. 12:24–26, emphasis added).
We have a responsibility to care for singles as we would our own families, because we’re not independent individuals anymore. We’re a part of something so much larger. Besides, in heaven there will be no individual marriage or families other than the family of God (Matt. 22:30).
So how can we care for singles as we ought? It starts with how we think about singleness.
Singleness Isn’t a Disease to Be Healed
Many people view singleness as a disease to be healed. I’ve been guilty of this myself. God’s Word, however, has quite a different perspective.
In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul addresses the whole church about the advantages and benefits of singleness. Singles, he says, are spared anxieties and troubles. (If you told a single that, they’d probably think, Ha! Paul obviously didn’t have a clue. I have plenty of troubles, and plenty to be anxious about!)
I don’t think Paul intends to minimize everything a single has to juggle in life. His point is that they’re not distracted by needing to please the Lord and their spouse. They have the freedom to be singularly devoted to the Lord.
Let’s be careful that we don’t adopt a “woe is you because you’re single” mindset when God celebrates singleness.
Let’s also be careful about how we “encourage” singles.
Is it okay to keep praying . . . and praying . . . and praying some more for a husband? This is a question I wrestled with when I was single. After all, I’d been praying for a husband for years, yet God seemed to thwart my desire for marriage at every turn.
I’m not the only one who wrestled with whether it’s okay to continue praying for a husband. A thirty-two-year-old recently wrote me:
For as long as I can remember, I have desired marriage. Though my heart aches in this season of prolonged singleness, I know that the Lord has given me this time as a gift to serve Him without any relational constraints. Therefore, I am not sure how to pray.
I don’t want to pray half-heartedly or without faith. Yet there is no guarantee the Lord has marriage in His plan for me. I do not want to stuff this desire and pretend it doesn’t exist. Nor do I want to hyperfocus on this longing and believe contentment requires its fulfillment.
What is the biblical solution? How can I honor God in my prayer life in this season, rejoicing in His faithfulness while also grieving this unfulfilled longing?
If you have a similar question about an unfulfilled longing in your life or in the life of a single friend, this post is for you. Today we’re going to eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayers to the Father on one of the darkest nights of His life. I think you just might find your answer tucked right there in the olive groves of Gethsemane. Let’s join Him.
Then, I’d love to hear from you. Have you wrestled with this dilemma? If so, what have you learned? Whether it’s asking God for a husband—or something else entirely—are you demanding your desires, or are you bringing them to your Father?
If I have the story right, after my dad asked my mom out, she commented to a friend, “Why do the creepy guys always ask me out?” (Obviously she changed her mind about my dad not too long after that!)
Maybe you feel like my mom felt all those years ago. Why does it seem the guys you don’t like are always the ones pursuing you?
I can’t answer that question for you (except to assume that you’re lovely, and they’re smart enough to realize it!). Instead, may I throw an important question out there?
When a “creepy guy” asks you out, how can you turn him down in a way that glorifies God? More specifically, how can you love a guy well while turning him down?
I’m so glad you asked! Let’s look at a few ways you can love him before, when, and after you turn him down.
Love Him Before You Turn Him Down . . .
Remember that this guy has worth. You might think he’s creepy, but everyone—including this guy—is made in the image of God. That means he has great value and worth in God’s eyes, and he should to you, too—even if you don’t like him “like that.”
Go to God rather than gossiping about him to your friends.Ask God to give you wisdom to lovingly but truthfully communicate with this guy. Ask God to draw this guy closer to Himself through this disappointment. Pray that this guy wouldn’t believe lies about his worth. Pray for wisdom in your interactions with him. You get the idea.
Accept this as God’s assignment for you. You might be frustrated because you don’t want to deal with this. I get that. But God is sovereign, and He has allowed this to happen. So can you receive it from Him?
Don’t rush. You might want to get this guy out of your life ASAP. A quick text might seem like the simplest solution. But is it really best? Pause. Breathe. Pray. There’s no need to freak out about this. You’ve got this, girl, and you can do it in a way that honors God and loves this guy.
Love Him When You Turn Him Down . . .
Own it. Don’t blame God by saying something like, “God hasn’t given me a green light,” or “I just don’t have peace,” or “I don’t feel God wants me to date right now.” Say it like it is: You don’t want to date him. (I mean, come on. If a hot, godly guy came along right now who liked you, would you really tell him you didn’t think God wants you to date right now?)
Tell the truth. When I was a teen, I thought covering up the real reason I didn’t like a guy would protect him. Wrong! “Not hurting his feelings” never justifies lying. Proverbs 24:26 says it like this: “Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.” So give him a “kiss” of truth—lol. It’s the least you can give him. Don’t tell him what you think he wants to hear. I’m not saying you can just blurt out whatever you’re thinking and be oblivious to his feelings. Use wisdom, but be truthful. If you’re not attracted to him, tell him you’re just not feeling anything beyond friendship. If there’s a deeper reason—a reason that would help him know where he needs to grow—share that with him in a direct, loving way. You get the picture.
Affirm him where you can. Even if you don’t like him, you can let him know it’s an honor that he would take an interest in you! More than that, he demonstrated an enormous amount of courage in putting his feelings out there and asking you out. Tell him how much you admire that and that you hope your response won’t keep him from pursuing the right girl at the right time.
Don’t think you’re boy-crazy? You just might be surprised.
Take the Boy-Crazy Quiz
Take the Boy-Crazy Quiz to find out where your focus is. Simply answer “yes” or “no” to these thirteen questions.
In a room full of people, do you always know where “he” is? (yes/no)
Are boys your number-one favorite topic of conversation with your friends? (yes/no)
Do you often dress to catch a guy’s attention? (yes/no)
Do you replace one crush with another almost as soon as you realize the first relationship is not going anywhere? (yes/no)
Have you asked a guy out? (yes/no)
Do you have your eye on more than one guy at a time? (yes/no)
Do you believe you’d finally be completely happy if you had a boyfriend? (yes/no)
Do you change your schedule or plans in order to bump into him? (yes/no)
Do you tend to have more guy friends than girlfriends? (yes/no)
When you’re relaxing with a good book, movie, or song, do you pick those that are filled with ooey-gooey romance? (yes/no)
If you journal or pray, are your pages or prayers filled with thoughts and requests about guys? (yes/no)
Are you always trying to figure out which guys like you? (yes/no)
Would you be willing to get a total makeover for a guy? Not the hair, make-up, and new-clothes kind, but the “I’ll change who I am at my core if that’s what it takes to get you” kind? (yes/no)
Where to Go from Here
If you answered “yes” to several or all of these questions, that says something important about your heart. It clues you in to what your heart loves. What your heart fears, even. Do your answers point to you being more crazy about your Creator God or about guys?
Speaking from experience, boy-craziness is a road that will ultimately lead to heartache and loss (Ps. 16:4). True joy and freedom, on the other hand, are found in God’s presence (Ps. 16:11).
We’re giving away three copies of Confessions today. To enter to win one, log on to the giveaway widget and then leave a comment below by Valentine’s Day, letting me know what you learned from taking this quiz.
In the meantime, let’s continue this conversation. Over the next couple of days, we’re going to explore two questions:
“Let him go. Move on, already,” your friends tell you. “Like, yesterday. You should be over him by now!” After all, it has been months. Years.
But still, he haunts your thoughts—dropping by frequently, oblivious to the fact that he’s not welcome—threatening to sabotage not only your past but your present. Like a shackle attached to your ankle, you drag this dead hope of a relationship with you wherever you go.
Meet Someone Else Who Couldn’t Stop Looking Back
You’re not the only one who can’t seem to stop looking back with longing. Over and over in the book of Numbers, God’s people, the Israelites, rebel against Him. They get hung up on their cravings, (“What I wouldn’t do right now for a leek!”) and wish for their past as slaves to Pharaoh. Here’s just one example of them looking wistfully over their shoulders:
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Num. 14:1–4).
“Let us go back to Egypt”?! The Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for 420 years. It had not been a vacation. There were bricks to be made and backs to be whipped and no relief in sight . . . until God intervened. He sent Moses to perform mighty acts and deliver His people from their hard labor and heavy burdens.
So Close . . .
He then began to lead them to the Promised Land, the land He had promised their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In this particular passage above, they were poised to enter the Promised Land. Twelve spies had been sent to spy it out, and ten came back with a fearful report:
“The land . . . is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height . . . and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers” (13:32–33).
Two of the twelve spies, however, reported:
“The land . . . is an exceedingly good land. . . . Do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (14:7–9).
Stop looking back, and instead believe that your God is good—and that all He does is good—and move on.
But instead of believing the two spies—and ultimately believing God—the people of Israel chose fear over faith. They cried out with longing for the “good ol’ days” in slavery.
As a result of their unbelief, God destined them to forty years of wandering in the wilderness (one year for each day the spies spied out the Promised Land), and ensured their fears would become reality:
“What you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in the wilderness . . . not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except [the two spies who gave the good report]. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in” (14:28–31).
Let Him Go, and Move On
This is more than just a Bible story. Did you know that 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that these accounts were written for us, for our instruction? I know your circumstances are different, but like the Israelites, do you believe God made a mistake? That God held out on you? Do you believe life would be better if only this guy had pursued you?
Are you obeying God’s command to avoid idolatry (1 Cor. 10:7)? My guess is that if you’re still living under the shadow of this relationship that didn’t materialize, you have most likely idolized this guy. Please don’t confuse love for lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
Please don’t confuse love for lust, covetousness, and idolatry.
Repent of making the hope of this relationship your ultimate hope. Believe God and move forward under His leadership. He wants to bless you, if you will only trust His heart. He is drawing you away from the slavery of idolatry and covetousness and into the Promised Land of contentment as His treasured possession, living under His rule.
Stop looking back, and instead believe that your God is good—and that all He does is good—and move on. Move forward, and watch God bring you out into a broad, spacious place.
I know that you associate singleness with punishment, but nothing could be further from the truth! How can I be so confident? Because God’s Word is crystal clear on the matter. Please do yourself a favor and give this lie the boot!
1. Someone else was punished for your sin.
You have a substitute. A Savior.
Jesus Christ willingly stepped into your place and took the full brunt of the Father’s wrath and punishment for your wickedness. If you have put your full trust in Christ, it is done. You are cleansed. Forgiven. Loved. Free.
“Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
“And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us . . . ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb. 10:11–18).
You can know that God the Father accepted Christ’s substitution for your sin because He not only raised Jesus from the dead, Jesus returned to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. Intimacy was restored. The deed was done.
Clearly, it would be unjust of God to punish His Son for your sin . . . . and then turn around and punish you as well! And God is anything but unjust.
You will never know His punishment, only His favor through Christ . . . if you trust in Jesus alone as your Savior.
2. Jesus was single, and it was not because He had sinned!
Hebrews 4:15 says, ” For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (emphasis added). Obviously, singleness is not the result of sin, because Jesus never, ever sinned.
Not only is singleness not punishment . . .
3. The apostle Paul says that singleness is a gift.
In 1 Corinthians 7:7–8, Paul writes:
“I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am” (emphasis added).
Paul goes on to explain why singleness is a gift: because “those who marry will have worldly troubles,” because he wants you “to be free from anxieties,” and because the married woman’s interests are “divided” trying to please both God and her husband (vv. 28–34). Paul summarizes all this in verse 35:
“I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
Sweet girl, the real problem is not that you are being punished for your sin. The real problem is that your hopes are misdirected.
Do not waste the gift that this season of singleness is.
Marriage is a beautiful gift . . . if and only if you are not looking to a man to fulfill you and complete you and replace your sadness with joy.
Marriage is a beautiful gift . . . if and only if you are running to Christ daily to fulfill you and satisfy you with His love and replace your sadness with joy.
Do not waste the gift that this season of singleness is. Use it to repent of your misplaced hopes and to find Christ to be your all-in-all. Only then will marriage or singleness be able to be received—not as punishment—but as the gift they both are.
Lately several girls have told me they’re convinced something is wrong with them because they’ve never had a boyfriend. Most chalk it up to being plain ugly, like this girl:
I’m twenty-three and have never dated anyone. I honestly feel like the weirdest, ugliest girl in the world, and all I can do is question what’s wrong with me. I feel if I was pretty like other girls or more dateable, I wouldn’t be single. And quite frankly, sometimes I even question if I’m worthy of being loved or if I’m so horrible I can’t even be liked.
I know life shouldn’t just be about dating, but it’s so awkward when all your friends are or have been in relationships, and you’re just there thinking, It must be because I’m ugly. I’ve come to hate everything about my physical appearance. It’s like my whole youth has passed me by. Because even when I’ve had any crush, they wouldn’t even notice me. I’ve now come to the point of thinking maybe love isn’t for everyone, but I don’t know how well I can accept it.
Single girl, nothing is wrong with you. Not in the way you think, anyway.
Nothing is wrong with being twenty-three and not having dated. In fact, you have the advantage, in my opinion.
My hubby was twenty-six when we started dating. Until I came along, he had never had a girlfriend. That wasn’t weird to me. It was pure relief!
If you read this blog often, you know my story. While I always had a crush on someone, I was boyfriend-less from ages sixteen to thirty—well over a decade. Do I look back and regret the fact that I didn’t have a boyfriend during those long years? No way!
Let me try to give you a little perspective.
Having a boyfriend, dating, is a fairly recent phenomenon in our culture. But marriage was God’s design from the beginning of creation: one man and one woman exclusively committed to each other until death parts them. It’s okay—wonderful, in my opinion—if you don’t drag a string of old boyfriends into this lifelong covenant.
Also, if you’re not dating, you’re saving yourself a whole lot of temptation, as the world claims that boyfriends and girlfriends get to enjoy all the benefits of marriage, but God’s Word doesn’t back this up.
And then there’s the fact that you grow and mature so much in your twenties. You learn who you are, what you believe, what you stand for, what you actually want in a lifelong partner. This time of singleness is valuable.
I can hear you protesting, “That’s all good if someone eventually pursues you, but no guy will ever like me. I’m too ugly.”
If you’ve been telling yourself over and over that you’re ugly, why would one guy telling you you’re not ugly change your mind?
You need to choose to believe what is true about yourself before you put a poor boyfriend or husband in the impossible position of convincing you otherwise.
You are beautiful.
How can I know this, as I’ve personally never laid eyes on you?
Because I know that God, the ultimate source of beauty, made you. And God doesn’t make junk.
I was in your shoes once. You can read all about it in my book, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey From Neediness to Freedom. A guy who led me on for over a year and a half finally admitted why he hadn’t officially asked me to be his girlfriend: “The spark comes and goes.” With that admission, the Liar (Satan) lodged a big, hairy lie deep within me: “You’re just not beautiful.”
That lie rang in my ears for months.
Until one morning when I lifted the bathroom blinds. The beauty before me nearly took my breath away—this delicate, purple flowering tree reaching up, up, up. While washing my face and combing my hair, I kept glancing at its beauty, drinking it in.
That’s when I saw it. You make beautiful things, God. At that moment, I chose to stop listening to Satan’s lies and to believe that my Creator had not made me ugly.
You make beautiful things, God.
As I write this post, I’m sitting in my backyard surrounded by wildflowers, vegetables, a Rose of Sharon bush, and decorative grasses. Each plant is different from the others, but I would never call anything surrounding me ugly! God doesn’t do ugly.
God made you, and you are not His one mistake.
May I challenge you to repent of believing this lie? Even if you don’t yet feel beautiful, agree with God that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:14).
Then I challenge you to change your focus—not on being loved but on loving God and others. After all, Jesus said that this is the greatest commandment in the law:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second
is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).
This is what you were made for: to love as God has loved you. And ironically, as you shift your focus from yourself to God and others, this is what will put your beauty on full display.
This is what you were made for: to love as God has loved you.
So how about it, beautiful girl? Will you choose to believe that God makes beautiful things—including you?! (If you doubt this, I challenge you to take a walk outdoors for a glimpse of His beautiful world!)
Also, I need to ask, is being loved more important to you than loving God and others? If so, will you confess this as sin to God and ask for His help to keep the greatest commandment?
There is nothing wrong with you, single girl. Go live beautifully.
He waits for that last person to receive His free gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him before He returns for His bride, the Church.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
He waits for His enemies to be finally defeated.
When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet (Heb. 10:12–13).
He waits to judge the world.
Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart (1 Cor. 4:5).
Sometimes He waits to come immediately when you call so that your faith might grow so that God might be greatly glorified.
The [two] sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. . . .
Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him” (John 11:3–6, 14–15).
He waits to be gracious to you.
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him (Isa. 30:18).
How does the fact that your God waits encourage you in your own wait? Can you think of any other ways God waits?
Last week I shared some mail I just couldn’t keep to myself. You were so encouraged that this week I want to share more advice with you from married women. So . . . I asked a group of married women of all ages the following question:
What do you wish you’d done before getting married (either to prepare for marriage or just to take advantage of your singleness)?
You may be wondering, Why should I care what a bunch of married women think? Well, did you know God’s plan is that we learn the ins and outs of marriage from women who are “older and wiser?” Titus 2:3–5 says,
“Older women are to . . . teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands . . . that the word of God may not be reviled.”
Part of that training takes place before you’re even in a relationship! With that in mind, here’s what several married women wish they’d done before getting married:
“I wish I had spent more time growing as a Christian instead of assuming that I would ‘follow’ my husband spiritually. I would have spent more time being myself instead of being simply available.” —Myranda
“I wish I hadn’t devoured literally every Christian romance novel and countless romance movies. The men portrayed in these stories seem to be near perfect and have caused disappointment in marriage stemming from dangerous, unrealistic expectations. It contributed to me looking to a man to satisfy my every longing when the only One who can do that is the sinless, perfect Jesus Christ.” —Kimberly
“I got married at age twenty, and I can think of a dozen or more things that have crossed my mind over the years (manage finances, finish school, travel, etc.) that if I had done before marriage would have made so many things easier. But when it gets right down to it, we have had a blast growing up together. The best marriages aren’t necessarily easy; they are committed. I am thankful for one thing I did do before marriage: moving away from home. I think that gave me a crash course in dependency upon the Lord for everything, which laid the perfect foundation for marriage.” —Julie
“I wish I would’ve taken time after high school to find out who I really was aside from being under my parents’ authority before I got married.” —Hannah
“I wish I would have enjoyed my single days more instead of concentrating on finding love. I also would have wanted to be more prepared for the reality of marriage; the work, the responsibility, the pain that is there among the joy. Forever is a much bigger commitment after all the celebrations have calmed down from the engagement and wedding and it is just the two of you left . . . you and sixty years. Single girls, MAKE SURE you marry someone you like, not just love. It has been said many times, but you really do need to marry your best friend! Let God lead you to each other.” —Heidi
“I wish I had really thought about how I’d find purpose and joy in the responsibilities of being a wife and mom apart from my other interests, which had of course monopolized my single life. ” —Laura
“I wish I would have lived as a godly woman when I was single instead of thinking, I’ll be like that when I’m married. I went through a very challenging first year of marriage until God graciously showed me I can’t keep saying ‘tomorrow,’ I need to obey today! Also, I wish I would have learned how to be an organized person, how to cook meals and grocery shop, and how to live within a budget. It would have made the transition to marriage easier had I already been experienced at taking care of myself (versus trying to figure out how to take care of two people).” —Emily
“I wish I’d learned more about how the marriage covenant is a picture of Jesus’s relationship with His bride, the church. It also would have helped to be involved more in service in the church, especially where no one could see me and there was no immediate recognition. It would have helped diminish my ego as a single woman!” —Aileen
“I wish I would have traveled more, gotten involved with more ministries overseas, even spent time living overseas!” —Kara
“I wish I had learned much earlier about submission in marriage. I never really grasped that until the last several years. I marvel at the difference it has made, learning to let my husband truly be the head of the family, even when I don’t agree with every move he makes. By over-powering my husband in the early years, I caused so many issues I didn’t even realize.” —Sheila
“I wish I had lightened up and had more fun.” —Jeannie
“I wish I would have spent more time with a mature mentor couple for the purpose of laying out our expectations for marriage. We’ve grown, and after sixteen years, are still becoming one. Learning to communicate clearly about the outcomes we are expecting before we begin a project has been huge. It’s so hard to backtrack. Clarity upfront helps work out some differences before they become huge mountains to tackle.” —Jennifer
Which piece of advice resonates with you most, not-yet-married-girl? What one thing can you begin to work on today as you anticipate marriage someday?