I remember being initially horrified as a teenager when I read about an early encounter between Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Elisabeth describes how, as a young college student, she screwed up her courage to ask Jim to sign her yearbook. He complied and, alongside his name he wrote “2 Timothy 2:4.” When she eagerly ran back to her dorm to look it up, she found this: “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (NIV). Translation: Jim wasn’t interested in dating her because his focus was solely on serving the Lord.
Ouch! My adolescent horror, first, was for young Elisabeth. How disheartening to be so rebuffed from her dream guy . . . and with Scripture no less!
But, to be honest, I also felt a bit horrified by the very idea of the passage. As a young person who was in love with the idea of love, it bothered me that this notion was in the Bible at all. The implications of this passage—that service to God somehow trumped marriage and other “entanglements”—left me feeling really uncomfortable.
A similar idea is reiterated throughout 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul repeatedly commends singleness and says that, in contrast to a married person, “An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him” (verse 32). This praise of singleness was particularly countercultural in Paul’s day when it was, without doubt, the expected norm to marry and produce heirs.
While our culture is quite different than Paul’s—with more than half of the U.S. adult population being single—within the church there still exists a pressure to marry. Weddings mark a rite of passage from youth to adulthood—leaving those who don’t marry feeling like they’re perceived to be in a perpetual no man’s land of not-quiteadulthood. And there’s still an unspoken and hurtful message that marriage and motherhood are what validate Christian femininity.
I now understand, in a deeper way, that Jim Elliot was on to something. As a married woman and mother of three, I am encumbered with responsibilities that chip away at my energy and focus. While I love my husband and children and am honored that God has given them to me, I’m also very aware that a single woman can, in a unique way, “be free from the concerns of this life” (1 Corinthians 7:32). She can focus on Christ and serve him with fervor and a whole-hearted dedication. She may be a party of one, but her life can have an exponential impact!
Singleness isn’t a state to pity within the church; it’s a position to honor and praise. Serving Christ with an un-entangled focus is something to be proud of! In this issue of Today’s Christian Woman, we’re discussing singleness and its implications for a life of faith and discipleship. Want to help us honor singleness? Consider these 5 choices.
- Bust misperceptions. From lonely and desperate to promiscuous and exciting, there are all sorts of stereotypes hefted upon single women. In “Single but Equal” Ashly Stage deconstructs common perceptions of single women and “the single life,” suggesting we focus on the real, complex woman rather than the “single” label.
- Stand alongside the heartbroken. It’s devastating when singleness is the result of divorce. In “If Love Runs Out,” Margot Starbuck shares her own story of heartache—and the healing, inestimable self-worth she finds in the love of God.
- Cheer on single moms. It’s tough—really tough—to raise kids alone. In “A Letter to Single Mothers: Your Best Is Good Enough,” Joy Beth Smith asserts a critical message: Your love is strong enough. Your faith is big enough. You are good enough.
- Connect within the church. Rather than feeling like the odd one out or being shuttled away from the church body to a singles class in a forgotten corner of the building, single women (and men) need to be viewed and treated as valuable and important members of a church family. In “Stop Overlooking Singles in the Church,” Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence offers ideas for how married women can do a better job of connecting with and embracing single women in their congregations.
- Fight loneliness with a Christ-centered focus. In “Why Do You Want to Get Married So Badly?” Jared Downing offers a guy’s perspective on faith and singleness. His advice for single Christian women? Rather than focusing on finding the right guy, pursue life with passion and gusto—and zero in on your faith in Jesus.
Are you married? Celebrate and support your single sisters in Christ. Are you single? Seek God and follow his call with dedication—in your relationships, your work, and your faith. Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of our sister publication Christianity Today, says it best when she writes: “Before marriage and family, there is Christ’s call upon our lives. This is wildly freeing news for all of us. Our lives do not begin the day we get married. Our lives begin the day God ushers us into his kingdom through Christ and invites us to participate in kingdom work.”
Party of One and Proud of It
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