Sitting in the college dining hall, I cringed as Kelly’s voice reverberated off the walls. She was talking about one of the guys in our brother dorm – nothing new for Kelly – but she sounded like a butcher at a cattle auction. I glanced down the hall at the guys who, in their typical gentlemanly fashion, were discreetly ignoring her comments about their dorm mate’s butt.
Kelly often wondered (and loudly complained) about her singleness, but no one could bear to tell her the truth: Her words and personality were chasing away every eligible guy within listening distance.
But not all girls are like Kelly. Many single young women are striving to live godly lives in every area: their words, actions, dress and attitudes. Even so, their lack of a relationship (sometimes extended over the course of years) leaves them asking, What am I doing wrong?
Our culture preaches a message of irresponsibility. We are told that our circumstances have nothing to do with our own actions, that consequences are often uncalled for, and that most “bad things” that happen to us are the result of unforeseen circumstances beyond our control. But in my observance of the singles scene (from being a member of it for nine years and now as a married woman, blogger, sister, and friend), I have come to the conclusion that singleness is a combination of God’s sovereign will and His holy call to sanctification.
Sovereignty and Sanctity
I say it all the time: singleness is a process of sanctification just like marriage. Neither is better than the other. Both can draw us near to God.
When I was single, I asked the “Why?” questions too. But as a married woman, I see the “why” with complete clarity: Every day I spent in singleness was sanctifying my spirit for the challenges of marriage and life. Was it God’s will for me to be single for those years? Definitely.
Because it sanctified me.
To be “sanctified” is to be cleansed, set apart, and consecrated for holy use. The Bible has a lot to say about sanctification:
“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21)
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:23)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Because God is holy, He cannot commune with sinful people. But in Christ, we are covered and cleansed, given a righteous standing before God because of the sacrifice Jesus made for us (Romans 8:16). Christ bridges the gap between our sinful state and God’s holiness, enabling us to have a relationship with a loving, but justice-obligated Lord.
This relationship is never at a standstill. Like any relationship, it must move either forward into greater holiness (sanctification) or backward into the sinful lives we once lived (Romans 6). Because God loves us so much, He longs for our relationship to Him to continue unhindered by sin. This means it is God’s sovereign will that we become holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15), though He gives us grace in the process (Heb. 4:16, John 1:9).
Singleness, like marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood, is a stage of life. For some, that stage lasts longer than it does for others. This brings us back to the two reasons singleness may extend for longer periods of time:
1. Because it is God’s sovereign will for that time.
2. Because this stage of life is a sanctification process refining your character and relationship with God.
Which brings us back to #1, because sanctification is God’s sovereign will!
If it is God’s will for a woman to be single in her current stage of life, she can either fight that will or embrace it. And frankly, if you’re single, that’s God’s will for you in that moment. What this doesn’t mean is that God is locking you into a lifetime of singleness, though it may feel like it at times. What it does mean is that you have a choice: to make the most of your present calling, or waste your years believing God doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
When single girls ask, “So is it God’s sovereign will that I be single FOREVER?!” That’s not the question to be asking in this situation. Whether or not you are single “forever” should not change your commitment to God in the present. I, too, wished I could get the “cosmic blueprint” with a trajectory of my next 50 years – mainly so I could plan whether or not to become a missionary, or go to college, or otherwise pursue the calling God had placed on my heart. I was attempting to fit God’s calling on my life around the possibility of a relationship and/or marriage, and those, my friends, are some screwed-up priorities.
If it is God’s will for us to be sanctified by singleness, we have to fully commit to our present calling and then take a long, hard look at what exactly God might be “sanctifying” in our hearts.
Whom He Loves, He Disciplines
Today we hear the word “discipline” and immediately have negative associations, but discipline is not a bad thing. Discipline – of yourself, or by someone else – is designed to result in improvement. The sanctification process in any stage of life will be uncomfortable and even painful at times. Case in point: I hate apologies. When I was a child, I would not apologize for something if I felt I was not wrong (and even if I felt slightly justified in my wrongdoing). I spent many days sitting on the couch, refusing to apologize, no matter how much discipline was used.
Fast forward 15 years: I’m married. Suddenly, pouting on the couch wasn’t effective anymore. I watched as pride ripped a hole in my marriage again and again, and as the pain of each situation made me long to repair my relationship with my husband, pride held me back from apologizing. Now I see the truth about my unwillingness to apologize. God used marriage to sanctify something in my heart that singleness had not exposed.
Just as marriage exposed a part of my heart, so singleness might expose a part of yours. It might expose discontent, a lack of trust in God, bitterness toward men, or a selfish nature. It can expose a lack of self control in areas such as our words, our diet, or our sexuality.
Now here’s the part we don’t like to hear: sometimes the things God is sanctifying in us have contributed to our singleness. Kelly’s uncontrollable mouth, undisciplined lifestyle, and clingy nature deterred my guy friends from asking her out. My own pride kept me from a positive relationship for at least a few of my single years. God’s sanctification is meant to bring us to self-reflection and repentance, and in that process we sometimes discover a few things we could do better when it comes to relationships with the opposite sex.
But God does not deal with us according to our transgressions (Psalm 103:10) – it’s one of the reasons I wrote my post Virginity is Not God’s Goal. So if you are asking, “What am I doing wrong?”, the real question to ask is, “Where does my heart need to be sanctified?”
Instead of focusing on the “problem” of singleness, understand that singleness is a stage of life permitted by God’s sovereign will for your sanctification. This should change the nature of our questions:
- What changes can I make that would help me bring glory to God in this stage of life?
- Is there any area of my life where I am not exercising self-control?
- Am I respectful to all people, including the men in my life?
- Am I trusting God for my future, instead of worrying about what “forever” will look like?
I personally do not consider singleness “a gift” (though you can ask me again in ten years, when I have four or five little ones tangled around my feet). I view singleness as a testing period, the reward of which is received through perseverance. I believe this is true because it is true for every other stage of life. Good marriages don’t just “show up” – you have to persevere in love, trust, and respect. Good kids don’t just “appear” – you have to teach, train, guide, and discipline children in the truth. And good single years don’t just “happen” – you have to persevere through the pain, loneliness, and discontent to live these years to their utmost possibility.
2 Timothy 2 is my favorite passage for single women, because it talks about this kind of perseverance. Hebrews 12:6, cross-referenced to 2 Timothy 2, tells that those who God loves, He also disciplines – and that “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7).
Submitting to sanctification results in a real heart change and thus, a real change in our actions. Because the character God builds is beautiful, not only will you walk in His will, you will also cultivate a humble heart that God may bless with the gift of marriage.
Singleness is not a curse; it’s a stage. Like any graceful dancer or talented actress, you have a choice. You can make the most of your time in that spotlight or waste it wishing you were in a bigger theater, with a more exciting role, performing to a different audience. The truth is, no matter what stage of life you’re dancing across, you have an audience of One. You perform to please Him regardless of your role.
So dance through your singleness like He’s the only One watching. He’s the only One whose applause matters. He’s the only One who needs to say “Well done”.