If you are single, this message is for you. If you’re married, this message is for you. I believe that we all need to confront the state of single life today in Christian people, both as marrieds and as singles. We must examine the messages we’re sending and what we can do as a Church to make life more fulfilling for young people confronting singleness.
What I want to say to you singles is hard to hear, but it needs to be said up front. The truth is that we’ve let you down. Worse still, the solutions to the problems you face won’t be resolved in your generation. The hope, though, is that you’ll be the ones who help the Church do a better job managing this issue in the generations that come after you.
Everyone is single at some point. I was single till I was 33. In a sex-soaked culture that perpetually whispers lies about the true nature of sex, that’s almost an eternity to be single. My body may have made it to my wedding night in one piece, but what our pornographic culture did to my mind is shameful. I think most Christian men know what I mean.
I understand how hard it is to block out the siren call of a pornographic culture like ours. Singles are sent an unending stream of lustful thoughts by the American entertainment culture, the mainstream media, and even our schools and universities. Where we Christians have let singles down in the Church is that we send a purity message that is almost impossible to bear in a society hellbent on countering every word of it. We’ve laid upon the shoulders of today’s singles a very heavy cross.
As I mentioned in several of my posts, including the recent “The Problem of Porn,” if Christians are to be all God desires us to be we’ve got to start thinking counter-culturally. Many of the problems we face today are ingrained in the very fiber of our culture and we Christians have bought into that culture without understanding the consequences of our actions. If we’re to lighten the heavy cross we’ve put on the backs of single Christians, we’ve got to start radically thinking outside the box.
Many of the most intractable issues in addressing singleness are bound up in several other problems that are in themselves difficult to unwind. But Christ is Victor and I believe that if we’re honest and carefully unpack these problems, start talking about them, and most of all praying to see God’s way, perhaps the next generation will be spared what today’s singles must bear. That way of preparation is highly involved, so please bear with me in what may seem like the completely off-subject reasoning that follows.
One of the principle lies we’ve bought into is the way we think about a young person’s life after high school. Our society has made college mandatory, but I believe that a day is soon coming when college costs will be beyond what Christian parents can reasonably handle (especially if those parents acknowledge that they need to slow down their hectic lives and consider work that keeps them near home, even if it makes less money.) It’s not unreasonable to think that a college education at a good school will soon run a quarter million dollars for four years. With our culture now claiming that graduate school is a virtual necessity in the global economy, education costs become even more prohibitive.
I mentioned in my post on pornography that six-year olds have become burnouts due to parents filling their schedules to ensure the kids will get into the best schools by having a “schooling résumé” loaded with one expensive, esoteric learning or sports experience after another. Pollster George Barna has even found that Christian parents care more about their children’s educational futures than they do that their children know Jesus deeply and intimately. This simply cannot continue.
We Christians need to start talking about alternatives to college and grad school. We need to consider setting up trade schools and intensive apprenticeship programs (like those in some European nations) that will teach our children highly desirable skills, especially for jobs that cannot easily be taken outside the United States. We also must find a way to keep our children from assuming the survival of the fittest mentality that permeates today’s work environment.
We must own up to the reality that colleges today, even Christian ones, have become little more than a means to cheap, commitment-less sex with a degree on top. If high school is hard to get through in one piece, then college is impossible. I went to a Christian college; parents, it is no safety net.
There was a tiny chapel on my campus where I would pray. It wasn’t particularly popular, so I was usually alone at the time of day I would frequent it. On the altar of that chapel was a student prayer journal. I used to pray for the students who left requests. The primary request was for God to forgive a student who had sinned sexually while enrolled at the college. (The second most requested prayer played into that: young women who were ashamed of torturing themselves through various eating disorders in order to supposedly stay desirable to the men on campus.)
At secular universities, the situation is even more dire. Hookups—commitment-less sexual encounters with acquaintances and virtual strangers—are now the norm for most collegians. Anymore, almost no one makes it out of college a virgin, even the Christian kids who take abstinence pledges.
One reason for this failure is we parents from the day our kids are born have done a terrible job instilling in them a complete Christian worldview. Not just a moral code, but an ability to rationally think like real Christians. In our culture, Darwinian worldviews dominate, even among Christians. We’re living every day in survival of the fittest mode. And because we are repeatedly told that we’re little more than accidents of nature, especially by college professors, we begin to think that our morality is based on fairy tales. Given that we already believe that education is more important than faith in Christ, as Barna noted, it’s a short trip to this kind of pitiful reasoning.
And so the solution begins:
- We need to train our children in a comprehensive Christian worldview.
- We need to start developing alternative means of post-secondary education.
But these two are not enough. Truth is, people are simply waiting too long to marry. Part of this is because Christians are caught up in the materialism of our times; we look identical to the perishing world around us, especially in America. Finding alternative means of living, alternative Christian communities that reduce the need for every family to duplicate the goods of every other family, can provide us with ways to step off the treadmill and start living less as rugged individuals and more like the Body of Christ. Learning to live with less and to be more dependent on each other will help us weather the tough times that may be coming for those who claim the name of Christ. (For a more developed view on this, I’ve blogged extensively here.)
The expectation that a young person will wade through the sexual minefield of college, then spend several years as a single while building up a career, is an increasing difficult burden for unmarried Christians struggling in our pornographic culture. The apostle Paul said that it is better to marry than to burn, yet we expect young Christians to spend almost ten years (on average today) on fire before they finally settle down. Is it any wonder that they fail in this, or that sexually transmitted diseases afflict half the people in this country—and almost as many in the Christian community? Who would wish that on their child?
I believe that long before young people graduate from high school, we older Christians should work harder to bring couples together at an earlier age. If the expectation of being away at college is removed, this becomes possible. If we consider doing more to help young people pick suitable mates, they could be married even while they are working in the alternative trade schooling and apprenticeship programs we are developing. Yes, this flies in the face of how our culture tells people they must find a mate, but I believe that young people will see through the cultural lies if we build in them a proper world view. If we set an expectation that young teens get teaching in our churches on what it means to be married, setup “manhood” and “womanhood” classes and restore traditional rites of passage within the church, and start setting a foundation and expectation of maturity at a younger age, we can make this possible.
- We need to prepare our children to live with less.
- We need to teach our children what true community living is and build those communities.
- We need to train our children to conduct themselves in a mature, godly, marriageable manner at a younger age.
Key to this is the acknowledgment that our generation is responsible for the generation that comes after us. To my generation I say, It’s time to grow up and look beyond ourselves. If people in our churches look only after their own kids, none of this will work. I believe that each man and each woman in a church must not only ensure the spiritual growth and maturity of his or her own children, but the children of every other family in the church. (Even nature teaches us this truth; herd animals will gang together to encircle and protect the young against predators, even those young that are not physically their own.) I can’t ignore my church neighbor’s child. Nor can you. Sadly, we in the church have spent too much time living out our rugged individualism to care about this crucial truth. We look at the troublesome young people in our churches and say, “Someone else’s problem.” We couldn’t be more wrong.
I believe that if we start developing these five areas
- Training our children in a comprehensive Christian worldview.
- Developing alternative means of post-secondary education.
- Preparing our children to live with less.
- Teaching our children what true community living is and building those communities.
- Training our children to conduct themselves in a mature, godly, marriageable manner at a younger age.
we can make headway against the poisonous sexual lies of our culture and stem the relational heartache that afflicts too many of our kids. Even for the already married, these life changes would eventually cut our divorce rates, too.
If these sound like radical ideas, they are. But radical ideas are needed. The current solutions we’ve erected simply do not work; we’re literally handing our children unprepared into the hands of the Enemy.
To today’s singles I can only say hang in there. I walked the same, difficult path you’re now on because no one in my era was willing to face the truth. I know how rough it is out there. Singleness is a gift and most people don’t possess it in our culture, so it’s hard being single today. (If you want to write me, I will pray for you and read your stories.) It may sound simplistic, but stay true to the Lord. Find folks who are willing to make you a part of their family. Watch how they live and learn from them. Don’t let Christian singles groups be your only outlet for godly relationships. Maybe even stay away from them altogether if they only cause you more problems. Ask the Lord to make you a desirable marriage partner and be willing to listen to Him when he tells you things you may not want to hear about yourself, especially concerning what you may need to alter in your life. Keep yourself busy, for idle hands are the devil’s tools. Devote this time to the Lord while you have it; when you eventually have a family of your own, you won’t have the the kinds of opportunities to serve Him that you have now. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day; don’t worry about tomorrow. And if you’re spending all your time looking for a mate, stop; God has a way of surprising you with a mate when when you cease your earnest searching and let Him be in charge of this part of your life. Most of all, singles, lend us your time, your stories and your hard-learned lessons in the area of sexual purity so we can help the next generation avoid all the hell you and I have been needlessly put through.
I had hoped to develop more on this, but I’ve already gone too long. Thanks for staying with me. Let me know what you think and let’s see if we can make this a reality.
God bless you all.
21 thoughts on “Singleness: Radical Answers for a Harsh Reality”
Thank you brother. That helped a lot. I’ve been thinking about my future a lot lately. I’m both excited and nervous about all the possibilites that I’ll be facing in the coming weeks/months/years. This post hit the right note.
You have some real gems in there.
🙂 I am hanging in there, but I couldn’t help but notice the disparity of time you did not allocate to addressing the unmarried single folk of today.
You’re right; it is an unbalanced perspective for those who are single today. What I added at the end is the best I know to say at this time.
The problem is that the whole Church singles sub-culture is broken and setup for failure. To fix it, we have to go to the roots and burn down everything we find there. That doesn’t happen overnight. Nor is it a simple fix—it requires paradigm-shattering answers. That’s what I tried to speak to in the main body of the post.
When I was single, I saw how badly the current system worked in our churches. That system really let me down. I know it is letting down many Christian singles. The hope is that the next generation of singles won’t have to go through what you and I did.
I am now engaged, but I lived the single life and dating for 27 years and I used to be sexually active. I agree with a lot of what your saying, but I disagree (unless I misunderstood you) that the next generation has to fix the problems. We can start now, many already are. Homeschooling has proven to have a lot of success! look into it, you may be surprised.
I go to the University of Illinois Springfield (Colorado proffessor Ward Churchill is an alumni) but there is a strong Christian presences! Two Christian clubs are on campus Christian Student Fellowship (Open to all denominations)-I am a member and Newman Catholic Student Fellowship-I am a co-founder of that club. Many of our members don’t even believe in dating…they court…if there is hope here then there is hope everywhere!
Also we can set the stage for future christians. I am going to teach history to low income kids (like myself a short time ago)…give them a good christian role model in public schools, we can work toward christian video games, sports organizations, and television alternatives. The future generation may be the ones to turn the tide, but we need to get off our lazy butts and give them something to build on.
There are people doing that right now…and more importantly people fighting the political fights to protect our way of live from people who would stop us from changing the tide of sin!
What I am trying to say is there are people fighting the good fight, we need to stop saying we need to fix it and start looking around us, because the people fighting the good fight are close by…Its time we all started to get involved!
P.S.-Love the site! It is popular with our little UIS blog circle. I am somewhat new to the blog life, but yours is quickly becoming one of my top picks!
Yeah, Matt Wallace’s blog gave me a significant bump in traffic. I can’t believe how many people have come here from his blog and from UIS recently.
My brother and his wife are both grad students at SIU, your anagram in Carbondale, BTW.
Yes, you misunderstood. I’m saying that my generation cannot fix the problems of singles today, but we can start to fix things for our children. I hope my son doesn’t get the burden of having to fix what we failed to!
What a most excellent, excellent post. You embody so many of my most deeply held values here. This is the best blog post I’ve read in a long time!
Don’t get me wrong I agree with most of what you wrote. I just get a little concerned about christian’s lately. I hear a lot of lets fix it and not a lot of lets do it! I am guilty myself sometimes. sorry I misunderstood and thanks for the clearify.
My comments were way tooooo long so I blogged about your post. I tried to trackback but it didn’t work, which is not unusual for haloscan with blogger..LOL.
You will find my post under April 27, 2005.
I commented on Diane’s comment to this post without reading your original first – glad I came back to read it now. Very well thought out. Looks like a good site. I look forward to coming back and reading the Mr. Rogers stuff. I was a big fan. Grew up in the Pittsburgh area. Someone aske me recently to name the most moral person I could and Fred Rogers came immediatley to mind. I heard or read somewhere once that he spent the first 2 hours of every day praying for others.
This is good stuff. It should be more widely circulated.
I appreciate your candid discussion about singleness, and even more, your acknowledgement that the Church has let us down. It is true that singles have a heavy cross to bear, but worse, is that most people in the church refuse to lift a finger to help. Perhaps the worse burden are the attitudes of people toward singles, ie: that they chose career over marriage, that they live lives of questionable purity, that they are “damaged” folks, incapable of love and not fully grown up like the marrieds, and therefore, not yet ready to lead fellowship and bible study groups. I know my list sounds exteme, but I’ve encountered these attitudes one time too many. And lastly, I want to mention the particular burden of the single females, who grossly outnumber single men in the church 4 to 1. For the faithful females (as many as 3 out of 4), who refuse to compromise by marrying a non-believer, a life of childlessness, no family and stigma await them. I wish marrieds were willing to be the family these females desparately need for support, but single females too often, are not welcome in a young couple’s home. A radical idea I would wholly support is a church ministry devoted solely to the recruitment of single men into the Church, for both the sake of the men’s salvation and the lives of their very own Christian sisters.
I agreed. I am a divorced woman and going to church as a single person has been difficult. It is clear that there are more women than men available for marriage.
I do not know what Christ would have women do. We also have issues with masturbation, sex drive. God made both genders desirious of that, and a desire to have someone special to belong to.
My last relationship was with a man who was not a Christian. I know , I know, we are told that is a,” no- no”, but I honestly thought God was putting us together, and moving in his heart. Having heard stories where this actually happened, and very attracted to him, I believed it. Needless to say, this created immense frustration and too much temptation for me to handle.
I find myself once again attracted to a man who is not a Christian. I work long hours because I must to support myself. It makes sense that the men around me are the ones I would develop an attraction and attatchment to.
I believe God is soverign, so He has placed me where I am. Around the specific people he has placed in my path. Perhaps this is some kind of test God has placed me in to test my faithfulness to him above my interest in the glorious creature he made called man? I do not know.
I just know, I want to live right, but it is very frustrating!My ideas about being a wife have changed through-out the years and so has the world we live in. It is true that woman are now seen as wage earners also and now we have the “blessing” of men considering us for our wage potential the way women do to men. Lovely.
It is such a big mess. May God have Divine Grace upon us all! I suppose He can direct each as we should go. Trusting Him when no fruit is on the vine, even if there never is, is a challenge. I do think we all need prayer for wisdom and strength. Temptation is everywhere , for all of us.
We read in these comments that giving in to temptation does not solve the problems of singleness either. It seems many times there is just a failed relationship left in the wake, so to speak. Should we go on to the next compromise? I think that a person has to really look at this seriously.
Is a single life worthless? Is it like being branded as leper in our society? I don’t know. I’m not involved in alot of socialness as a senior single woman after a divorce.
There are promises in the Bible for single women to have more children than she who has a husband. I think some women feel that ‘if I was married’ my life would be so much easier and better. Not so. I think that this is a false illusion by singles. I’ve been both married and single as a woman. There really isn’t much difference in my mind, but my marriage was compromised by deception, abuse and lies. Is a marriage like this better? No.
Children are wonderful, but they are much work and sacrifice. In our culture children tend to put a lot of pressure on marriages, I think. Are there no other children around us that we can help and be a support to? Is there nothing else worthy for our life but marriage and kids?
This may be a little bit of looking at the grass on the other side and ‘seeing’ that it is greener. Once you get there, reality sets in.
I can’t say that I entirely agree with you on this. I am a 22 year old christian female who has kept faithful to her vows of purity through highschool and college— and I know that I am not such an anomaly as you make it sound.
I do agree that we need to help younger christians mature faster in certain areas— there are great youth books and programs such as Danah Garesh’s “And the Bride Wore White” which was amazingly helpful— that allows younger christians to think about sex and immodesty with frankness and understanding. Demystiying sex and impurity changed a me and my walk greatly.
But to try to connect them into practically marriage ready couples by the end of highschool— thats Medieval, sure their divorce rates were lower under that system— but thats because it didnt exist. In fact, placing young christians in such relationships so early in their life only breeds more temptation— they are adolescents and teens and guess what they are supposed to be immature. That does’nt mean that you cant treat and teach them as you would adults— but you should not always expect adult reactions from them. Allow them some years of blilssfully ignorant youth— you only get it once.
As to this idea about apprenticeships and trade schools— they are’nt for everyone— and if they are for you, they already exist to a large degree— College provides an amazing opportunity to learn how to think and defend your own viewpoints, an opportunity not found in most other settings . Yes, it can be difficult in such a predominantly secular environment— but how else are we to grow. To be forced to truly defend your ideas and convictions helps to strengthen them immesurably— essential to this though is a firm foundation in the Bible and in basic christian principles that get skipped over in many church youth groups— which you have partly spoken to in your blog.
Sorry that was long and as you can see I do agree with you partly but some of those ideas are radical— and perhaps only have potential on paper, as many good ideas do— you need to think more of developing the practical aspects of your rhetoric.
Thanks for writing. I hope you get an opportunity to read this response.
George Barna did a report a couple years ago that followed “deeply committed” Christian teens into college and afterwards. Barna’s report found that 80% of them had left the faith by the time they graduated.
I’m merely reporting what Barna found. Say what you will about some of his solutions, but his polling is usually very accurate.
I can almost guarantee you that of those 80%, nearly 95% of those women in that group who were virgins when they entered college weren’t by the time they graduated. Again, the studies have borne this out.
Marriage-readiness upon graduating high school is no pipe dream. That used to be the norm. We can make it the norm again if we thoroughly instruct kids as young as 12 in marriage-readiness classes.
I can attest out of my own life that for many young men, marrying early would be extremely helpful. Extremely. As for the ignorance of youth, that was great during whenever those idyllic times were, but the world simply is not idyllic. Thirteen years is long enough to be a kid. (And yes, I’ve read The Hurried Child.)
As far as trade schools go, you’re not thinking down the road far enough. By the time my son is old enough to go to college, it may very well cost a quarter of a million dollars for four years of education. You think I’m kidding, but college costs graphed out against trends over the last thirty years bear me out. Are Christians planning for this? No, but we should be.
Tradesmanship is going to return. We either lead the way or wind up following weakly. I prefer the latter.
“Truth is, people are simply waiting too long to marry.”
I have long wondered why we do not here this in our churches. You do an excellent job of pointing the way. I hope that not just singles but churches are listening.
We assume the culture/society as a basis and then wrap our Christianity around it. That’s wrong and always will be. The Church must do what is pressing for the hour and tell the world to take a hike if it doesn’t like it.
Also, I’m not lying to myself as to whether churches are listening or not. They are not. The best solutions are always simple yet hard to implement given the society/culture. And we’re too lazy to tackle the hard implementation. And we’re lazy because we just don’t care. It’s easier to bind millstones around people’s necks than it is to remove them. That said, the Church must always be in the millstone-removal business. It’s about time we learned how to do it. If we can’t do it among our own people, then perhaps we should close up our churches, because they are no longer the Church Jesus came to build.
Yes, I feel strongly about this. It’s time to grow up. We don’t have much time left.
Wow, that is an ominous note to end on. I am a college student visiting several churches and trying to find which one to join. What do you recommend that I do/look for? I have grown up in church and plan to continue going to church on Sundays. I used to go to a Chinese church (which my parents prefer since they are asian), but now I have the option of choosing. Should I go to a traditional church (Methodist) or a contemporary church (nondenominational)? I’m still trying to figure out the denominations thing and it’s really a struggle. If you could impart some wisdom here, I would greatly appreciate it.
Besides the singles/marriage issue, what do you see as problems in modern-day American society and the Christian church?
Much love and I’ll remember you and your family in my prayers, Dan. Thank you and may Christ be always with you.