Rethinking singleness

Have you heard about this? The brouhaha about whether pastors should be single? I wasn’t going to give it much thought – I’m not a pastor, nor do I intend to be – but then I read this thoughtful post by Steve DeWitt. I encourage you to read the whole thing because he makes several good points, but I was edified by his paragraphs on being single well:

“… There are practicalities about marriage and ministry that advantage the married pastor in some categories. Every married pastor would affirm that a godly wife is a wonderful blessing both personally and pastorally. We should recognize and celebrate that a married pastor’s marriage is a tremendous asset in both his personal growth into holiness and the resources it generates for shepherding a flock.

But we must also recognize that a pastor’s singleness is equally valuable in different ways. Speaking from experience, singleness has its own anvil on which God shapes character and pastoral gravitas. In addition, single pastors have some tremendous gifts to share with their congregations. When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can’t hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient. These strengths, combined with the greater energy and time that single pastors can pour into their churches, should lead us to conclude that singleness ought not be viewed as a negative. If Paul was serving on the search committee, I think he’d argue for it as a positive.”

I may not be a pastor, but I could resonate with the tension he describes. Being single is a blessing. I rejoice that I can be the flexible one and serve my friends by adjusting to their schedule and needs. I’m thrilled to have time to pursue the things that God has given me to love, like blogging, reading, the church and (other people’s) children. I’m relieved that none of my kitchen “experiments” are causing my family to starve – I’m grateful for this time to refine my culinary skills. 😉

However, I admit that it’s not without its pangs. I want to be married. Being single is lonely. I’m blessed by the friendships I have, but my friends and I don’t often have the opportunity to love each other by calling each other out on our sins. We encourage one another and lift each other up, but when we’re done sharing our meal, we go our separate ways. While it’s our natural state to be selfish creatures, I worry that being single makes me more selfish. I’m slower to be thoughtful of others simply because my daily life requires me to think only of myself. I’m finding it harder to be vulnerable because I’ve gotten used to taking care of myself. There’s no one to offer a hug or a listening ear at the end of a long day. I love to cook and I buy all this food only to eat it by myself. It’s weary. Marriage, on the other hand, is a beautiful picture of the Gospel – grace and love and faithfulness and hope in action. And that’s what I’m aching for – to be living out the Gospel.

But God, in His grace, is always faithful. Even in my alone-ness, He is quick to lovingly convict me of sins I can’t (or won’t) always see. God never turns down my pleas for opportunities to serve. And I’m not trying to go all mystical on you, but there have been times, some particularly low times, when I can almost feel Someone holding my hand or enveloping me in love. I don’t understand it or know how it works, but I do not doubt that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”

I’m gaining, I hope, a keener insight into the truth that all things come from God. I cannot do anything to redeem myself or make myself content. I can’t force myself to be a thoughtful person, but I can pray that the Lord would stir my affections for others and have a genuine love for them. I am often unwilling to deal with my sin, so I pray for a teachable spirit that won’t ignore the Spirit’s conviction. And when I feel like my soul might shatter from the weight of being alone, I cry out to Jesus and He never fails to comfort. A godly husband, while wonderful, cannot make those claims.

This, I am learning by not being a wife.

Isn’t that the Gospel? That I can’t do it on my own and that Jesus is enough? Marriage tells a sweet story of grace – so does being single. I’m delighted and relieved and rejoicing in this – Christ is glorified in my singleness. It bears repeating:

“When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can’t hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian [wo]man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient.

Yes, only Jesus… only Jesus.

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