This is a guest blog article by Kristyn DeNooyer. Kristyn and I met in hope*writers and she has become one of my favorite writers on singleness and spiritual formation. I wish I had found her writing years ago when I was single; however her message that “singleness is good” continues to be important regardless of relationship status.
I invited Kristyn to share her words on singleness and spiritual formation with us. Enjoy!
In elementary school, it was a running joke that while my friends spent their afternoons ziplining across the creek in the backyard, I was perfectly happy to stay inside organizing their doll houses.
In middle school, I adored babies, and prayed fervently for more younger siblings. My specific request was triplets, much to my mother’s amused chagrin, and I still remember the names I had preemptively determined on my parents’ behalf.
“Sometimes God answers prayers in the next generation…” Mom would suggest–a slightly tongue-in-cheek nod to my own someday-family.
High school brought homeschool moms trying to set me up with their sons, and my late teens and early 20s were filled with a rapid succession of serious relationships.
My initial college plans and professional aspirations were framed with the assumption that I would be married in the next few years and raising children shortly after. To put myself through school, I worked as a nanny, a direct support professional, and a preschool teacher — all roles involving kids.
If “marriage and motherhood are my highest calling” had a face, it would have been mine.
I believed in my soul that marriage and motherhood, walked in step with the Spirit, were vibrant and transformational stations that point to the Gospel and fuel the life and flourishing of the family of God. I still believe this.
I believed in my soul that marriage is indeed a metaphor of the mystery of Christ’s love for the Church (Ephesians 5:32). I still believe this.
I also believed that I was unable to be fully integrated into the life and mission and belonging of the family of God until I was married. This is something I no longer believe.
As a single woman, I affirm that marriage is a beautiful and sanctifying calling, but I no longer assign it the superlative purpose or the default outcome in my life. However, the culture around me– (especially of the Christian variety–) often does.
I’ve spent the last two months interviewing close to 100 single Christians from different walks of life: — never married, divorced, widowed, abuse survivors, solo parenting, co-parenting, and other nuances. Again and again, the reverberating refrain is the same in each conversation:
“No one ever told me how to be single. No one ever told me that singleness is good.”
We’ve been told it is a gift to appreciate–but also to get rid of as soon as possible.
We’ve been told it is a season to steward–but one that will definitely end because the “right one is out there”.
We’ve been told to be content–but also have our maturity questioned if we aren’t actively pursuing a partnered relationship.
In my life, the narratives I heard on singleness were conflicting at best, harmful at worst, and left me with a near-constant low grade angst that I was missing out on God’s best.
But Scripture tells a different story.
Our Goal and Our Hope
Single people often get 1 Corinthians 7 thrown to us as our consolation passage, instead of a call to the whole church to examine it’s priorities.
“I guess Paul does say it’s better to be unmarried…” is a whispered sentiment. But “if you really want to be sanctified and made more like Christ–get married!” is said from the pulpit.
But 1 Corinthians 7 isn’t unique within the trajectory of Scripture. It actually lines up with redemptive history’s move towards the Messiah and the initiation of an upside down, countercultural kingdom.
Under the Old Covenant, everyone married. But not marriage for marriage’s sake; marriage for children’s sake. The covenant was passed down from generation to generation through children, who ensured God’s ongoing blessing. That is why eunuchs and infertile women in the Old Testament were shamed and excluded; they were seen as without the blessing of God. However, Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant, the foreshadowing of Christ, turns that biological-child-centric paradigm on its head.
In Barry Danylak’s book Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life, he says this:
The barren woman, who was unfruitful in producing physical offspring, is now able to bring forth something profoundly greater– spiritual sons and daughters in the pattern of the servant. The Eunuch, conversely, who had been denied access to temple service, is now given an eternal and permanent place within God’s house. Instead of being a figure of reproach, he becomes the model of uncompromisingly loyal and devoted service to the Lord in the pattern of Daniel the prophet. Both are begetters of spiritual offspring and can serve as models of devoted service to the Lord. It is in the life and ministry of the church that Isaiah’s vision takes hold (p. 113).–Barry Danylak
In Christ, spiritual children take the place of priority. Marriage is no longer necessary, because discipleship does not require biological bonds. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 may be influenced by his own experience of singleness, but they line up with Isaiah’s words in the above prophecy, and Jesus’ words in Matthew 12. (“Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”)
Consistent with the call for all believers, a single person’s hope for maturity and sanctification is not in marriage–it is in Christ. It is the Spirit, not our circumstances, who sanctifies. The end goal of our singleness is not marriage–it is to know God, who is Love, and to make disciples, to walk with others in and towards Love.
Living Into The Reality
When I first encountered these truths, it was as if a weight had been lifted. I realized (in my own story, as this is not something I claim or assume for other people) that so much of what I had assumed was a desire and longing for marriage was a fear of never being seen as whole.
So much of what I had been told was “discontentedness in my singleness” was the concern that if I was not married I was not living out the metaphor of Christ and the church, and so was unable to properly image the gospel.
But the metaphor is not more important than the reality.
A metaphor is symbolism. It’s role, in a literary sense, is to embody or image. Marriage as a metaphor helps us understand the reality– (that of being the bride of Christ), but it doesn’t take precedence over the reality.
Those who are not married are not missing out on the reality.
The reality of being the bride of Christ, of receiving his self-sacrificial love and offering the same back to him, of being co-heirs of the gospel inheritance, of being interceded for, empowered, and championed in gifts–this reality includes all believers. This is the reality of the Christian for eternity. Single people intrinsically belong as active participants in the reality of the greatest story of love ever lived.
Single people intrinsically belong as active participants in the reality of the greatest story of love ever lived.Tweet
Singleness is Good, Too
I still like to organize houses, only human-sized ones now (just ask my roommates.)
I still adore babies, although my professional work doesn’t often involve kids anymore.
I still would be very appreciative if someone would let me name their triplets (I’m only partially kidding.)
But what has changed is my understanding of singleness. I, in my singleness, am not a problem to be solved. My maturity as a single person is not dependant on securing a partner but on pursuing “unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13), discernment (Hebrews 5:14), and rejoicing in suffering (Romans 5:3-5).
Singleness is not a waiting season, a holding pattern, or a situation to be remedied. It is instead a vibrant invitation to flourishing in a community called to be marked by distinctive belonging, side-by-side-ness, and a mutual pursuit of Christ and love of his people.
Singleness is not a waiting season, a holding pattern, or a situation to be remedied. It is instead a vibrant invitation to flourishing in a community called to be marked by distinctive belonging, side-by-side-ness, and a mutual pursuit of Christ and love of his people.Tweet
So let’s be the church, and make disciples, together. And when we’re living out that reality, I’ll be the first to tell you: singleness is good.
Kristyn DeNooyer writes at the intersections of singleness, spiritual formation, and chronic pain. She holds degrees in English & Nonprofit Communications and Bible & Theology and owns a small copywriting firm working with justice+equity driven small businesses and nonprofits. Kristyn loves small-city living, ecumenicism, and contemplative rhythms. When not putting pen to paper she can be found hosting dinner parties, frequenting local businesses, and pursuing her Masters of Divinity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. You can find Kristyn and follow her writing on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.