Many American churches have taught their young people a harmful ideology that Jackie Hill Perry calls the “heterosexual gospel.” This teaching claims that a healthy walk with the Lord naturally leads to marriage, thus, the Christian's ultimate goal is not Christlikeness, but marital union. I resonate with Perry’s message, as I was misguided by this teaching in my teenage years. By setting marriage as a primary goal of the Christian life, disappointment and confusion were inevitable as I remained single year after year. Here are a few quotes that I heard in church in the 90s:
- “In God’s perfect timing, your prince will come.”
- “Stay sexually pure, seek God with all of your heart, and one day you will look up to see your mate running alongside you in the journey.”
- “Enjoy your youth. One day you will grow up, get married, and have a real job.”
- “95 percent of people get married, so I would say your chances are really good.”
Can I get a chapter and verse reference for these? The husband was all but promised as a prize for the obediences of the Christian life. The Bible teaches us that regardless of marital status, we are God’s masterpieces created for good works (Eph. 2:10), to be holy in all of our behavior (1 Pet. 1:15), and that both marriage (Prov. 18:22) and singleness (1 Cor. 7:7) are a blessing from God.
Prolonged singleness is on the rise, and the church has some catching up to do. Singles need to speak up in this realm, as well. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’d like to offer some suggestions for how my married friends can help their single friends feel loved, valued, and included as you celebrate love with friends and family.
Here are a few ways to love and serve the singles in your life:
Practice generosity: Invite your single friends to your family’s Valentine’s Day festivities. A few years ago, one friend invited me on their family weekend getaway. It is hard to be sad or contemplative when you have cans of silly string, balloons, and confetti in your hotel room.
Show hospitality: Host singles in your home for Valentine’s Day. One family in our church invites singles over to their house for a Valentine pizza party. Be creative, and think of ways you can be hospitable to your single friends.
Be thoughtful: I have a friend whose 80-year-old mother sends me a valentine and red candy every year. I have had friends who sent flowers or balloons. Have your children make cards for people who will probably not receive a Valentine’s Day card. Celebrate the love that friendship brings into your life, in addition to familial and romantic love.
And here are a few things you might avoid doing in order to better serve the singles in your life:
Don’t play cupid: The week of Feb. 14 isn’t the time to play matchmaker with two of your favorite single friends. Even if you have a positive track record of setting people up, if you have a really good feeling about it, or if you think have the gift of “prophecy.” Do you see where I am going with these “evens”? Let’s save dating negotiations for another week. Blind dates are stressful enough without the pressure of Valentine’s Day.
Use caution with questions: This isn’t the week to (nor should you ever) ask the following questions of your single friends—actual questions that people have asked me.
- "Are you mad at God because he hasn’t given you a spouse?"
- "Didn’t you want to have children of your own?"
- "Why aren’t you married yet?"
- "Aren’t you just being too picky?"
Sure, there is a time and a place for questions, wrestling, and challenging conversations with your single friends. But, married friends, tread lightly in these waters. Be transparent. Explain to your single friends that while you care about how they feel and think, you may need to seek help while navigating these waters. Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Humbly seek information about what is okay or what may be taken offensively. There is grace given for even being willing to make the effort. Perfection is not the goal, and Valentine’s week is probably not the best timing for these conversations.
Avoid Christian platitudes: Well-meaning married people sometimes say the strangest things to singles. Please try to avoid Christian dating platitudes such as:
- “Mr. Right will come when you least expect it.”
- “Maybe you just need to put yourself out there more.”
- “God has someone very special picked out for you.”
- And my personal favorite, “Perhaps God has a few more things to teach you before he brings you a husband.”
There is a vital role in the church and society for single men and women: the goal of the Christian life is God glorified among the nations.
None of these comments are helpful, and some of these comments infer that something is wrong or lacking in the single person but resolved for the married person. Praise God, there is good news for us all: God continues to love and teach all of us, regardless of our relationship status.
Don’t cash in nanny favors: Don’t ask your single friends to babysit so that you can go on a date night. Keep this week off limits from phoning a single friend. This one isn’t an absolute, and if your single friend offers, then by all means. But in general, it’s a wise time to steer clear of magnifying the fact that you have a lifelong date and your friend doesn’t.
Far from being cynical, God has shown me great grace in overcoming the harmful teaching I received as a youth. He is my reward. Together with the church, he is my husband (Isa. 54:5). Womanhood according to the Bible is about so much more than being a wife and mom. And Scripture’s description of manhood far exceeds being a husband and father. There is a vital role in the church and society for single men and women: the goal of the Christian life is God glorified among the nations. Let’s continue to pursue open and honest conversations about these topics and work together toward that goal. We can learn from each other as we seek to bring glory to the greatest single person to ever live, Jesus. Happy Valentine’s Day!