How To Be Gracious To Singles

Single people in the church are often the recipients of unsolicited “words of encouragement”—words which, if not rooted in the truths of Scripture, can inflict pain and cultivate despair. These well-intended platitudes miss the mark of edifying talk. For those who haven’t experienced a long season of singleness, it can be hard to know what to say to those who have.

Let’s take a look at three clichés that misunderstand the loneliness and lack of purpose singles often feel, and replace them with true promises of Scripture.

Telling a fellow believer his or her season of singleness will end upon a proper exercise of contentment mistakenly presupposes three things. First, it assumes this single person isn’t already content in the Lord’s will for her life. Second, it suggests married people arecontent or they reached some pinnacle of contentment before finding their spouses. And third, it foolishly implies we can identify a formula for God’s providence—our God, whose goodness is sure but whose plans are a mystery.

We shouldn’t tell a grieving couple that their infertility would be resolved if they were more content in childlessness. Nor should we tell someone struggling financially that he’d get his dream job if he accepted where God has him now. Likewise, we shouldn’t make such careless promises to single people. Read More»

Mary Van Weelden | “What (Not) To Say To Singles” | February 14, 2023


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  1. This is such an overlooked issue. I have personally had to go our pastors over the years and remind them to pray equally for the singles in intercessory prayer and go easy on the “Proverbs 31 Woman” stuff. It makes me cringe to think what was taught in all those “pious” women’s group bible studies. Mind you, I am no egalitarian and neither was she. My daughter was 26 years old before she married, but yet she had to listen to prayers for the “families”, “mothers”, “children”, “widows”. etc .and wonder where she fit in. Great piece.

  2. A variation on the “contentment” trope I heard from a fellow unmarried man, the claim was “If God has gifted you with singleness you’ll be at perfect peace about it.” To that I pointed out that the Lord told Jeremiah in Jeremiah 16 to never marry (and not attend weddings or funerals or parties) and do we find the prophet “content” in singleness? Does Jeremiah 20 REALLY seem like it was written by a man who was “at peace” with his singleness? The guy eventually got married and I suspected his pep talk was more for his own benefit as to how he needed to get married because he wasn’t at perfect peace with his singleness. A young Kierkegaard once sniped that the young man bewails his unmarried state and then, once married, bewails the loss of all his free time and that a man can find ways to be miserable either way.

    I have had a decade or two of reading preachers and Christian writers lament the “epidemic of singleness” as if it were simply a numbers game for “every” man and woman in churches to just go get that spouse already. The irony is that some of those kinds of writers have shown up in the Gospel Coalition orbit. Are these kinds of pieces penance for the Josh Butler excerpt? I’ve started to wonder about that.

  3. Something to consider — we have radically different views in America on the “appropriate time” to get married. Single people who announce an engagement may be told by one group of friends, “You’re way too young,” but by other friends, “What took you so long?”

    I live in an Army town in rural America. It is not at all unusual for young people to get married right out of high school because a young man who enlists in the Army will earn what is, at least by rural American standards, a great income with great benefits that make it possible for young people to get married and support a family at a much younger age than is possible in many other careers. I have personally seen people, including children of Army chaplains, get married while still in high school with parental permission, not because they “had to get married,” but because the future bride was a year younger than her future husband and they wanted to be married before the husband graduated from high school and left for basic training. Most people in modern America would object to high school marriages, but it’s pretty hard to say that exceptions like that one are wrong. Even back in the 1950s, one of my mother’s friends got married in high school because her boyfriend had been drafted for the Korean War, and I don’t think we want to object to marriages like that.

    By contrast, for most young urban professionals I know, getting married before the late 20s or early 30s is considered a major mistake. I was personally very surprised when, at Calvin College, many of my friends were getting married right after college. My parents would have been furious with me if I had gotten married as young as most of my friends, i.e., shortly after graduation, or at most, a few years later.

    There are important Christian principles about preventing immorality. Delaying marriage produces real problems, and our secular world is seeing the consequences of what has now been at least two generations of saying that it’s a bad idea to get married until people have spent half a decade or a decade out of college.

    But there are also important principles about being mentally, emotionally and financially ready for marriage. Is it a good idea to push two young grad students into an “early marriage” in their mid-20s when the result will be a massive increase in their debt load?

    Some consider a mid-20s marriage to be “way too early.” Some consider it “way too late.”

    The answers to those questions are not easy and need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of the young people involved. “One size fits all” just doesn’t apply here.

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