Grieving The Loss Of A Gift I Never Wanted
I never wanted to be single.
Singleness to me always felt like the participation ribbon you would receive in elementary school sports. It was a consolation prize to make you feel better about losing the big game. You tried, you put in a good effort, but you failed. The pats on the back motivated by pity and accompanied by “Everything’s gonna be alright” feel as if they have merely changed forms as a single adult. General encouragements of how singles should enjoy having more freedom, flexibility, and finances often ring hollow because it doesn’t really feel like the one offering support believes what they are saying any more than the single person they are trying to console. Both feel bad about their singleness because we all tend to believe that the real winners in life are those who have gotten married and get to carry their trophy around on their finger every day. We often just try to find a silver lining in the single’s pitiful estate, no matter how small (I once had someone respond when I told her that I wasn’t married or dating anyone with “do you at least have a dog?”).
The Gift of Singleness
This is because it is believed that singleness is an inherently inferior existence. It is the JV team and we are all just waiting to get married and move up to Varsity. We feel it is so difficult and undesirable that one needs the “gift of singleness” to endure it. This is viewed as the uncanny ability to be content, fulfilled, and at peace with being single, which is something so impossible to suffer through on our own that it requires a divinely given superpower. This leads to single people feeling like their life has not yet truly begun, and can easily breed dissatisfaction and discontentment in their hearts. This was my experience for many years. Thus, I wanted to find someone to marry so I could “fix" what felt like a problem.
But the notion of singleness being a problem to solve is foreign to the Bible. The Apostle Paul refers to singleness as a gift in 1 Corinthians 7:7, but not in the way we often discuss it. “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” Rather than talking about a special ability to deal with singleness, Paul is saying that singleness is a gift just as marriage is. He even goes as far as saying that he wishes all Christians were single like him because of the unique gift that it is. Basically, singleness is a good thing!
"But if it is true that singleness is a good gift from God then why does it sometimes feel more like torture?"
"How could God have messed up so bad in thinking singleness was good?”
If you have ever felt like this as a single person, you are not alone. Many singles do feel this way even if they theologically affirm the gift of singleness. I did. It even even got to the point for me where I felt bitterness toward God for giving me this “gift,” yet withholding from me the gift I really wanted. But my bitterness and discontentment revealed that I wasn’t fully understanding the goodness of God in choosing gifts for His children.
Our Good Gift-Giving God
God is not so out of tune with the desires of single people as to completely mess up in his gift giving. He is not the family member who gives you old, out-of-style clothes that don’t fit for Christmas. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17)—and Paul has told us that singleness is indeed a gift. But the disconnect comes when we mistake what we feel is a good gift for what God knows is a good gift. God is perfectly good, and, therefore, always acts perfectly good towards his children (Psalm 119:68). This divine reality applies even in singleness. Sam Allberry says, “If we balk at the idea of singleness being a gift, it is not because God has not understood us but because we have not understood him” (7 Myths About Singleness, 37).
In her article “Singled out for Good,” Paige Benton Brown discusses the goodness of God in her singleness. “I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single. The psalmists confirm that I should not want, I shall not want, because no good thing will God withhold from me.” Singleness, and many other life circumstances, do not always feel good, but that does not mean that they are not good. For everything that is difficult in life is not necessarily bad, and everything that is easy and pleasant is not necessarily good. And we know that God works in and through all things for our ultimate good in Christ (Romans 8:28). So, God is being thoroughly good to us even in our singleness. Acknowledging these truths does not magically change our struggle with being unmarried, but it is a necessary step toward greater trust in God no matter what life circumstances He gives to us.
And if we ever doubt that God is good to us we need look no further than the cross of Christ. God's abundant goodness caused Him to send His Son to the cross in our place in spite of our sin and rebellion so that through faith in Him we might be saved and have life to the fullest. “Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place? The answer is a resounding no. God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me. His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person—not an attitude but an attribute” (Brown, “Singled out for Good”). As we survey the sometimes unwanted gift of singleness, we can find comfort in knowing that it is a gift handed down to us in kindness from our infinitely wise, loving, and good heavenly Father.
Singleness, Marriage, and the Gospel
Paul’s confounding teaching on the gift of singleness continues as he emphasizes that it is a gift precisely because of its focus on others. This differs drastically from how we normally think of gifts as primarily bringing enjoyment to the recipient. Tim Keller says in his book The Meaning of Marriage, “In his writings, Paul always uses the word “gift” to mean an ability God gives to build others up.” So singleness, just like marriage, is not primarily about us and our perceived sense of fulfillment. It is about ministry to others as we worship and serve God in everything. Indeed, this is what the Christian life is all about—delighting in Christ and helping others to do the same. There will be challenges and difficulties in doing this as a single person, just as there will be so in doing it as a married person. But that does not mean one is better than the other or that only one is actually a gift from God. “When you have this gift, there may indeed be struggles, but the main thing is that God is helping you grow spiritually and be fruitful in the lives of others despite them” (Meaning of Marriage, 207-8).
And the beauty of these gifts is that they both can declare the glory of the gospel. We know from Ephesians 5:31-32 that marriage uniquely pictures the eternal marriage of Christ and the Church, and that the husband and wife get to daily live out this drama. But this does not mean that the single person is left out in magnifying the glory of Christ in the gospel through their relationship status. For, “if marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency” (7 Myths, 120). The single person gets to declare that the only marriage that every Christian will enjoy for all eternity is that between Christ and the Church, and that this future reality and all the blessings contained in it can be experienced now. The unfulfilled longings of the single person for happiness, companionship, and sex in marriage can help to push them to find their true satisfaction in Christ alone. They can declare in word and deed that while these are good things, Christ is enough. And the opportunity to do that as a single person is a uniquely beautiful gift.
Grieving the Loss of God's Gift
So, as I limped along in my unwanted singleness, the Lord was patient with me and graciously taught me so many deep truths about marriage, the gospel, His unfathomable love, and my identity in Christ. As I fought to believe these things, over time God brought me to a point I never thought I would be (and, indeed, did not want to be)—I genuinely felt that singleness was a gift. I saw the beauty of magnifying Christ as a single man like I never had before. I even desired singleness and felt like I could equally pray for God to bring me a spouse or to stay single the rest of my life. I saw the goodness and gift-ness of both!
And now I am processing the grief that is accompanied by losing this good gift that I never wanted. For in less than two weeks I will trade one gift for another as I get to marry the beautiful and godly woman that the Lord has brought into my life. As excited as I am to step into the goodness and blessings that come with the gift of marriage, I grieve the goodness and blessings of the gift of singleness that I am about to leave behind. For, while me and my wife will get to be a picture of Christ and the Church in our marriage, I will no longer get to declare with my life that the gospel is sufficient to sustain me in the difficulties and unfulfilled desires of singleness. While I look forward to tending to my wife and being used by God to contribute to her flourishing in Christ, I will no longer have as much freedom and flexibility to be available to others for gospel ministry. While I am excited to face all of the ups and downs of life with my wife, I will no longer have the simpler and more straightforward existence of singleness (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). While I will still be able to preach the profound truth that “Christ is enough!”, I will no longer be able to say this to singles while sharing their same life experience. In fact, losing the ability to pastor people in their singleness by looking them in the eye, being able to completely sympathize with all of their struggles, fears, and frustrations as a single person, and point them to the sufficiency of Jesus in all things as a single man myself who "gets it" is the thing I am grieving the most.
And yet I trust that God’s plan for me in my singleness was good, and that His plan for me in my marriage will be good. For God’s fierce commitment to us is our sanctification and growth in Christ-likeness. And He will do this in every one of us either as a single or married person, for there are no other categories. And He knows the best way to love us and conform us to the image of His Son. So, I know that this trading of gifts is for God’s glory and my good. Experiencing grief at leaving my single life behind is almost as surprising as when I began to desire the gift of singleness. But it is a testament to the goodness and grace of God to produce in us the fruit of the gospel—even when we don't desire it.
God is Our Greatest Gift
So, dear single Christian, Christ is your greatest good, not marriage. He is enough for you. Your struggle with your unfulfilled desires for marriage is not a bad thing because marriage is a good gift worth desiring. But you do not need to be married to be happy, whole, and fulfilled in life. You only need Jesus. Even Christ lived a single life, and He was the only perfect human to ever walk the face of the earth. You are not lacking anything or missing out on God's best for you because you already have Christ. You can properly lament the difficulty, suffering, pain, and loneliness that come with being single, but use those trials and your desires for marriage to run to Christ and be satisfied in Him alone. For neither singleness nor marriage can satisfy us, only Jesus. And because you are in Christ, the most true thing about you is not that you are single (or married), but that you are an adopted child of God (Romans 8:14-17). Fight to believe these things even when they feel thoroughly untrue.
And pray that God will help you to see and feel that singleness is indeed a gift. Elisabeth Elliot said, “Having now spent more than forty-one years single, I have learned that it is indeed a gift. Not one I would choose. Not one many women would choose. But we do not choose our gifts, remember? We are given them by a divine Giver who knows the end from the beginning, and wants above all else to give us the gift of Himself.” God has already given you Himself and is holding nothing back from you. He has satisfied your deepest needs with His greatest gift—Jesus. Let these profound truths produce greater worship as you trust your good heavenly Father with every good gift He graciously gives you.
-By Kevin Tapscott