Making a Success of Singleness
AN EARNEST young man wrote to some Christian elders for advice. A year before, when he was twenty-one, he had “made a decision to stay single” to share more fully in the ministry. His letter continued: “Now I am not so sure about my stand on singleness. I find myself falling in love. . . . I really don’t know what to do!”
While he himself had to decide, good advice would include: ‘Work at making a success of singleness.’ But what does that mean? Does it mean staying single all his life? or that any conduct at all is all right as long as he keeps his goal of singleness? What practical steps could one take?
Such questions merit consideration, for all of us are single for at least some portion of our lives. Before most persons marry, they usually have spent some years as a grown single person. Others choose to stay single long into their adult life in order to pursue a career or special interest. Some would like to marry but have not yet found a suitable mate. And there are many persons who were married but are single again because of the death of their mate. If you are in one of these categories, how can you make a real success of singleness?
Getting God’s View
It is helpful to note what God says in his Word about singleness and marriage. As our Creator, his view can be expected to be right and balanced, not unreasonable or distorted.
God dignified human marriage by instituting that estate. He knew that in marriage humans could enjoy mutual help, companionship and happiness. Also, they thus could in an honorable way produce offspring. (Gen. 2:18, 22-24) The Hebrew Scriptures abound with examples of true worshipers who enjoyed the gift of marriage.
Nor did Jesus and his apostles condemn marriage. To the contrary, Christ confirmed the divine origin of marriage, and the apostle Peter was a married man. (Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 9:5) The apostle Paul wrote as respects protection against immorality: “Let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband.”—1 Cor. 7:2.
But the Bible does not ignore the fact that marriage is not without its problems. Since all humans are imperfect, and we live in a wicked system of things, marriage often brings its own anxieties—along with its joys. Paul spoke of such problems as ‘tribulation in the flesh.’ A single person is ‘spared’ this “tribulation,” though perhaps still facing other problems. 1 Cor. 7:28.
Since there likely will be problems with either marriage or singleness, does God make any recommendation? Yes, the Bible very clearly encourages singleness, on the part of both men and women. This is not a blanket recommendation of singleness as an end in itself, but singleness where the motive is service to God with undivided attention. As Paul pointed out, the married person is anxious for and interested in pleasing his or her mate, and this is proper. By comparison, then, the single Christian may be able to be in “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.” In this respect singleness is the “better” course.—1 Cor. 7:32-38.
The time of one’s young manhood or womanhood is an especially fine time to devote attention to serving God, even as the Bible shows. (Eccl. 12:1) Thus many young witnesses of Jehovah have chosen the course of singleness, at least for the present, in order to share in the Christian ministry with fewer distractions. As to singleness in old age, the Bible mentions the prophetess Anna. She became a widow after only seven years of marriage and did not remarry. Instead, she “was never missing from the temple”; she used to God’s praise the freedom singleness afforded her.—Luke 2:36-38.
Your singleness may be for a short time or a long time. It may be by choice or the result of circumstances. But what can you do to make a success of it? And what pitfalls do you need to avoid?
Jesus, in encouraging singleness so as to be in a better position to serve as a minister of God’s kingdom, called it a “gift.” He urged, “Let him that can make room for it make room for it.” (Matt. 19:10-12) Obviously he was not making singleness an obligation on all, or else it would not be a “gift.” But his words do imply that effort is needed to succeed in having and using this gift. There will be dangers or problems involved.
If you are a single person, you will need to guard against being envious of those who are married. Should the first violinist in an orchestra let himself be eaten up with envy at the concert pianist? Each has his own talents and rewards. True, married persons have certain joys that you do not have. But they also have responsibilities and limitations that you do not. As one elderly Christian put it, ‘If single persons could be as philosophical from choice as married persons have to be from necessity, there would be fewer single persons envying married persons.’
If you realistically acknowledge your situation and its benefits, you will not find yourself sourly belittling either singleness or marriage. Because one is single is no reason to become cynical or frustrated. Jesus as a human never got married, but he plainly had a well-balanced attitude toward marriage, women and sex. Had he been a bitter, cynical person, he would not have been popular with persons of all sorts. Yet both single and married men and women were pleased to associate with him, and even children were drawn to him. (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 10:13-16) By manifesting a similar well-adjusted attitude, you can make a success of your singleness.
Avoid Being Single yet a Failure
For you to succeed at singleness involves more than just your attitude; it also involves your conduct. For instance, Catholic “Saint” Augustine lived with a girl outside of wedlock for some eleven years. Though he did not marry, would you say that he was a success at singleness? Paul set forth God’s view in this regard when he wrote about widows: “But the one that goes in for sensual gratification is dead though she is living.”—1 Tim. 5:6.
The facts show that many persons who do not want to commit themselves to marriage, or feel that they are not in position to marry, believe that premarital relations are excusable. In 1972 Time magazine reported that one survey of 4,611 unmarried girls living at home or in dormitories revealed that more than 46 percent had lost their virginity before the age of twenty.
But indulging in sex outside of marriage is unquestionably not the way for you to make a success of singleness. The soaring rates of venereal disease and extramarital pregnancies testify to that. Still more important—God’s judgment is against fornicators.—Rev. 21:8; Gal. 5:19-21.
In addition to contributing to success at singleness, your refraining from premarital sex may help you in another way. If after years of successful singleness you decide to marry, it will help you to make a similar success of marriage. In Sex and the Now Generation a counselor at one university stated: “To have sex without love is to reduce the sexual capacity to the purely biological level. . . . This is to distort, if not permanently scar, the potential meanings of significant sexual expression. It produces dehumanization.” And research indicates that persons who are promiscuous before marriage are more likely to be immoral after marriage. So loose conduct in singleness could ruin your marriage later.
Nor would you be a success at singleness if your normal desires and affections are transferred to focus on a person of the same sex, to homosexuality. God, who has observed the lives of hundreds of millions of humans, assures us that such a course is unnatural; he warns us against it, knowing that it does not bring true happiness. (Rom. 1:26-32) It would constitute ‘behaving improperly toward one’s virginity.’ The Bible advises that it would be better for one to marry than to do that. (1 Cor. 7:36) Singleness maintained by means of unnatural affection for a person of one’s own sex is not successful singleness—it is failure.
In a similar vein, one does not succeed at singleness by falling into the practice of masturbation. Though many doctors claim that self-abuse does no harm, note what two authorities wrote in A Marriage Manual: “Occasionally young people who have practiced self-relief over a long period of time may find it difficult to readjust their sex habits and to derive complete satisfaction from the sex union in marriage.” Cases have come to our attention of men who became so controlled by this bad habit that they continued it after marriage, causing the family much grief.
But whether that proved to be the outcome or not, the perfect counsel of God is against self-abuse and the sexual fantasies that accompany it. The Bible counsels: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness.” (Col. 3:5) But is not masturbation much the same as a married person’s expressions of love for his or her mate? Not at all. It is an exciting of sexual appetite solely for one’s own satisfaction; it is an expression of greediness. (Eph. 4:19) Should you not, then, avoid self-abuse if you are to make a success of singleness?
Self-Control: Its Need and Benefits
The foregoing all points strongly to a key factor in successful singleness: self-control. Is that an oppressive burden, something necessary just for single persons? No, all Christians ought to display self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Even married people need to control their sexual drives and expressions, as governed by their mate’s needs and condition as well as by Scriptural principles. One author observed about exercising control: “No one can let his feelings run wild, doing just what he pleases all the time. . . . You have to learn how to control yourself in order to live with others.”
‘But won’t that warp my personality or hurt me physically?’ some may wonder. The book Why Wait Till Marriage? answers: “There is no evidence that self-control hurts your sex life. Quite the contrary tends to be true. As you learn to control your sexual feelings, they become ever more meaningful and satisfying. It is the fellow or the girl who goes around with his emotions all unbuttoned who is in the greatest danger. The self-controlled person can bear to wait.”
Self-control is also necessary as to the type of association you have with persons of the opposite sex. Some have claimed they can successfully pursue singleness while still going out on “dates” from time to time. But, being honest with yourself, is that not almost a form of self-torture? Experience has shown that one cannot truly make a success of singleness while dating or keeping regular company with someone of the opposite sex. Such association is really part of the chain of events leading to marriage. ‘But can’t it be just a platonic friendship?’ some may think. Having dealt with such matters for years, one authority commented: “As a doctor I don’t believe there is such a thing as a platonic relationship between a man and a woman who are alone together a good deal.”
And you do well to guard that you are not regularly talking about the opposite sex, reading novels featuring sex and romance or watching television programs or motion pictures of that sort. This same doctor added: “I recommend a policy of prevention. . . . If walking in the darkness makes a woman ache inside, then she should stick to daylight for her strolls. New Orleans jazz has a primitive tom-tom rhythm that does a single woman’s peace of mind no good. Tchaikovsky wrote some [music that is] mood music for two—and despair music for one. It’s masochistic [self-tormenting] to listen to music that is disturbing.”
Occasionally you may encounter thoughtless persons who chide you for remaining single. Do not let it upset you. Recognize that human society is largely built around marriage and family, and that your course is different. So try to be understanding if someone acts unkindly, perhaps because of not appreciating why you are pursuing this course. On the other hand, some happily married folks, wanting you to have happiness, may urge you to marry or may introduce you to prospective mates. Be patient—maybe they just have not given thought to the joys and privileges you have as a single person.
Many single Christians find that their lives are made rich and rewarding by helping others to understand and apply God’s Word. One doctor explained: “The body can withstand a lack of physical lovemaking; the spirit can’t withstand a lack of affection, achievement, status, or security.” To a large extent these very things are found in the warm fellowship of the Christian congregation and in the wholesome and vital Christian ministry.—Acts 20:35; 1 Pet. 4:8; Matt. 24:14.
So, are you among those who—by choice or by circumstance—are now single? There is much you can do to make a success of your singleness. By giving attention to your outlook and your conduct, it will not be said that, while you remained single, you were a failure at singleness. Instead, you will find singleness to be a rewarding way of life, with its own opportunities and blessings.