There’s a load of articles written and being written at the moment about being single in the Church. There’s some brilliant videos that’ve been made to capture some of the hilariously awkward and all too common “struggles” that single Christians face. There’s the 10,000 megatons of pressure we receive to find a partner once we turn 21 (or 18 if you’re a girl) and then to get married as soon as we start dating someone. There’s the awkwardness of being spotted in a coffee shop with someone of the opposite sex followed by Olympic level feats of conclusion-jumping. There’s the well-meaning and well-intentioned friends and relatives who see your singleness as a problem or a disease that they need to help you fix or be cured from. There’s also the influence of the way we’re taught to view male/female relationships by Hollywood, the media and the rest of the world which can in some cases be reinforced by the Church.
Most human beings long for intimate relationships in which they are wholly known, fully loved and totally accepted. Intimacy is not about sex, it’s about interconnected closeness at a heart level. Friendships are most rewarding and beneficial when they are intimate instead of superficial, when you can share the deep things of your heart with people and be privileged to hear their’s, both being met with love. There’s a release of life and joy, courage and wisdom. I think that this is indispensable and is one of things we risk losing in the 21st century amidst the nonsense of social media and online friendships.
“Most human beings long for intimate relationships in which they are wholly known, fully loved and totally accepted.”
Single Christians actually have a great opportunity to develop incredible, kingdom friendships with each other that exalt God and draw each other closer to Him. We can be really good at this in same-sex friendships but as soon as we cross the line and meet someone in the middle of the gender-divided dance floor, things get weird. We’re able to engage with friendships at a level that isn’t really advisable post-marriage and I think we’d be wise to make the most of it now. Let me explain what I mean.
I have one amazing older brother. He is also the son of my mother and father. He has taught me a lot about life and how to see it and live it and enjoy it. Although none could ever attain to the level of my blood brother, over the years my number of brothers has increased by the development of depth in my friendships with other guys. Since being an older teenager I’ve also adopted many sisters as I’ve realised the incredible blessing it is to have amazing women in my life who just have a totally different view and perspective on…well everything really! I believe investing in my friendships with ladies has really grown me and rounded me as a person. Having grown up with no biological sisters I’ve definitely found that regularly sharing life with my female friends has radically changed my life and is still shaping the way I see the world.
Hollywood had previously instructed me that women were either potential targets to be conquered sexually or potential trophies to be displayed proudly. Unlearning that was a journey. Apparently, women are actually human beings with their own mind, will, emotions and everything! Go figure! They’re actually not wild prey to be captured or inanimate objects to make me look good. Who’d have thunk it?
I really do see unparalleled value in healthy, vibrant friendships between guys and girls but a lot of the current formation of Church culture makes them difficult to cultivate and maintain. In 1Timothy 5:2 Paul instructs Timothy to treat younger women as sisters in a totally pure way. This is a level of relationship which tends to be made into a caricature and a bit of a joke in the Church but one that I think we’d benefit from taking a little more seriously. These kinds of friendships need a nourishing atmosphere in order to grow well and there are a few pressures and ways of thinking that exist in a lot of (maybe most) churches that I’ve found make them difficult if not impossible.
Pressure to Find a Partner or Get Married
It seems harsh to say but married people and church leaders (who are mostly married people) have a tendency to see single people as projects and themselves as match-makers. Marriage is often exalted as the be all and end all of Christian life and growth and so single people are recognised as being somehow deficient without it and in desperate need of it. We often forget what Paul says in 1Cor 7:32-35 about single people having a greater capacity to serve the Lord and we exalt marriage as being the ultimate vehicle for ministry. Now, I don’t think this is totally the fault of the well-meaning, self-employed match-makers but instead I think that they are also products of the same system of thinking. When they were single, they were probably made to feel inferior and lacking by married people and so naturally carry on the trend.
I think that a lot of married people also just love being married and so are excited for their friends and loved ones to experience this amazing thing that they’ve discovered. I know also that those who are married feel the benefit of the tremendous amount of personal and spiritual growth that the responsibility of marriage brings into your life that cannot be produced by anything else.
“We often forget what Paul says in 1Cor 7:32-35 about
single people having a greater capacity to serve the Lord
and we exalt marriage as being the ultimate vehicle for ministry.”
I don’t want to condemn people who just want good things for their friends but I do want to encourage a little more wisdom in applying this pressure. You may have been in the situation where you’ve been happily chatting to someone of the opposite sex and afterwards someone excitedly asks you with the ol’ nudge ‘n’ wink “So…who’s that then?”. Or maybe even, horror of horrors, someone comes over to tell you both that you “look great together.” Unless you know that person very well, that conversation is likely to now become awkward and your perception of every gesture from then on becomes warped. Is she laughing because that’s such an absurd suggestion? Is he embarrassed because he wants to be more than friends? Was she laughing at my jokes because they were funny or because she likes me? Do we really look great together? The prevalence of this pressure makes it really difficult to enact 1Tim 5:2 because any attempt to cultivate a pure friendship can be thwarted and instantly become an attack of awkward hawks.
Pressure to be Fixed or Cured
The whole perception of singleness as a problem, a disease or a prison sentence that will one day be concluded produces a special kind of insecurity in single people. Being repeatedly treated as though you’re not really whole or ready to fully serve God unless you’re married can really knock your confidence and self-worth over time and push you either into a strange limbo of waiting for your life to start or a crazed search for someone to complete you. This is how we get to the place where every time we enter a room of Christians we don’t know, we’re wondering if “The One” is in there. Every time we talk to someone we find attractive or get on well with we’re trying to look 10 years into the future instead of enjoying the moment. When someone gives us a compliment and our hearts and brains go into overdrive! That is weird. Let’s just not, okay? No more.
Housing this insecurity in our hearts stops us from really cultivating healthy friendships without creepy ulterior motives. And because we assume everyone else thinks that way it keeps us from being able to be truly open and honest in our friendships. We’re gripped by a tonne of irrational fears, constantly looking into an imaginary future instead of focussing on the reality of the present. We can risk not valuing people for who they are but instead for who they maybe just might possibly become to us some day. Not cool. Insecurity can turn us bitter toward our loving friends who are married or in relationships and want to help us find what they have that makes them happy and so we start to miss out on some of the wisdom that they really do have to offer. But let me suggest something to both parties that might help a little.
First of all, single people, we need to stop getting angry when people try to set us up or give us dating advice. Yes it can be frustrating but not if you know the heart it’s coming from. If you’re really secure and happy where you are, it shouldn’t really bother you. If you’re not, you could probably do with some advice and exploding into a “strong independent woman who don’t need no man” frenzy isn’t going to help. Just take it with a pinch of salt.
“We need to know the diversity of how God
works so that we lean into Him to hear His
voice instead of trying to follow formulas.”
To the married people, this is not a rebuke but please stop giving out advice as if the way things have happened for you in your life is the only way things can and should happen for everyone else. Just think how many stories there are out there of how people have grown in God, met someone special or gotten the job they were looking for etc and think about how many of those people would advise others to do what they did. Being in the middle of that is actually really stressful and confusing for us and if you preach your story to us like it’s the Gospel we are going to endeavour to follow it to the letter and it’s going to fail. We need you to recognise all the directions we get advice from and show a little humility in sharing your awesome story with us. We need to know the diversity of how God works so that we can lean into Him to hear His voice instead of trying to follow formulas. Also, please just let us be friends! Thanks!
Pressure from Your Own Heart and Hormones
Tackling this one really requires wisdom and maturity. We have got to be real. We have to be real with ourselves and where we’re at in our hearts. God is our Father and that makes us a family which should make the Church a safe place to be. If we have no intentions beyond friendship then family is the place we rest. As I wrote previously, I think that this gets ignored too much and the influence of the world on male-female relationships has permeated through the Church. Guys if you’re walking into church “scoping out the talent,” give yourself a slap and see the vulnerability of your sisters who face objectification everyday in the world. Ladies if you’re walking into church looking for the guy who is going to complete you, redeem you and give you purpose and meaning, His name is Jesus and He’s waiting for you to trust Him. See your brothers who need you to help them give Him that place in their hearts too.
Single people spend A LOT of time talking about being single and one day hoping to be married. A LOT of time. Sometimes this is good and healthy but I think sometimes it’s a symptom of the pressure we feel from our culture. The world shouts just as loudly that we are most valid when in a relationship or at least when someone is interested in us and we have to admit that between the billboards, movies, magazine articles and story books, this does affect us. Simply knowing and admitting that empowers us to not allow it to colour our friendships with each other as brothers and sisters. The world would have us believe that men and women can’t be friends because of the sheer power of sexual attraction and temptation. Attraction is certainly a powerful factor. There is also a natural, in-built desire to have a close companion in most people and these desires do get stirred from time to time but my Bible tells me that even though I am human, temptation isn’t my master (1Cor 10:13).
Finding someone attractive doesn’t always mean that you can’t be friends. Many of my friends who are ladies are incredibly physically beautiful but that doesn’t automatically mean that I need to get all weak-kneed and ask them out because I’m an adult and I manage my feelings. I think that it’s a little immature to resign myself to the idea that I can’t have friends who are female because I’m afraid of being overtaken by my urges. It’s great to exercise wisdom in our weakness but I find it sad that having a symmetrical face or a shapely body (or whatever) could mean loneliness and isolation from real friendship for some people. I believe that living in a posture of valuing and guarding our hearts while seeking to honour and bless one another in friendship is something that should set us apart from the world as kingdom people as a display of the power and holiness of God as well as His Father’s heart.
That being said, I’d still like to suggest some things that might help us in guarding our hearts and friendships:
- Defining the Relationship – this simply means being clear about your intentions and feelings in any friendship. So many people get tripped up here because wrong conclusions are drawn. If you think you might be leading someone on, say something. If your feelings change and you’re wanting to be more than friends, say something. Clearly communicating our feelings before they’ve been built up into a gushy nuclear explosion, although it may seem awkward or unnecessary at the time, helps everyone and does a better job protecting friendships in the long run. Cue hilarious video!
- Don’t be Ridiculous – if you’re trying to have an isolated friendship with only one person that involves pouring out your whole heart and doing all the romantic things you would normally do with someone you’re in a relationship with, you’re just being ridiculous! Sorry. Let’s not manipulate other people into fulfilling our needs. Not cool. Our insecurities and desire for deep connectedness can become the enemy of our friendships if we’re not careful.
- Having Clear Boundaries – having boundaries that we won’t compromise on helps us to pursue who we’ve decided we actually want to be and they help us to guard our hearts well. When we know the kind of person we want to be, we can decide what we will do and what we will not do. What we allow to be done to us and what we will not allow. We set up standards of behaviour that will protect our values and we stick to them. Having clear boundaries will protect us when we’re feeling emotionally vulnerable because we won’t have to make decisions in the moment, they will already have been made.
- Prioritising Same-Sex Friendships – guys and girls are different. Very different. It’s getting less and less popular to say that but generally speaking I really believe it’s true. There is a unique way that we can strengthen and encourage each other brother to brother and sister to sister. There is a level of fellowship that guys can have with guys that if you try to cut and paste it into a mixed-gender friendship it makes things weird. Don’t make excuses about “not getting on well” with same-sex friends. If you do get married, you’ll need them then!
- Listen to Your Friends – if your close friends are constantly telling you that you’re getting too close to someone, Do Not Ignore Them! They may be able to see something you can’t. Wisdom will always hear the voice of a friend and respond. If everyone is shouting and waving red flags and you’re ignoring them, please refer yourself to the second bullet point.
There is so much I’ve left unsaid but in conclusion, I think Christian brothers and sisters should have kingdom advancing, heart honouring, wisdom wielding, life enriching friendships! We do need these friendships in our lives and we do need to protect them. They need protecting from being polluted by insinuation and unhelpful suggestion. They need protecting from over-analysis and scrutiny. They need protecting from careless flirting and ignorance. We all need protecting from bitterness and insecurity. I think it’s important that as single people we stay open to our married friends and as married people we stay open to our single friends. The enemy would love to drive a wedge between us that cuts off the flow of love and wisdom that we desperately need to run into all that God has for us. Guys and girls, let’s be friends!
Thanks for reading! Please check out the Related Articles and Videos below! I’d also love to hear your thoughts in the comment section or in person!
If you want to read about how annoyed I got at one response to this post, here’s Part 2!
Related Articles and Videos
ARTICLE – 3 Ways the Church Can Encourage Singles
ARTICLE – Insecurity: Nature’s Cover-All
ARTICLE – What it Means to be a Friend
ARTICLE – How to Deal with Rejection