Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single

fairylightstrees

When my older sister happily married at 21, I was going to be just as happy and just as married by the time I was 21. So I thought.

This year I turned 31, and I am very much single. The strangest thing about this isn’t my persisting life stage, but that it took me over a decade for my life stage to actually dawn on me.


There’s a world of difference between not yet married and single.


Shouldn’t the fact that I’m single have been more obvious?

Well up until a few short months ago, I’d spent over a decade considering myself not yet married. But there’s a world of difference between not yet married and single.

Not yet married means lack, yearning, incompleteness, discontentment. I’d had a decade of it, and finally called enough enough. Now I’m single. The great thing about single is that it actually just means single.

New Beginnings, New Furniture

An odd set of circumstances lead me to being single.* Mid last year I was about to move house, but three months would pass before my new tenancy began. I looked around my place and realised that, through the generosity of friends and strangers; the frugality of my student years; and the help of a score of ex-housemates who’d married and moved out, I was now the sole owner of a large collection of horrific-looking furniture.

To store this junk for three months would cost time, effort, and money better wasted elsewhere. The only sensible option was to give it away.


For me, marriage is no longer ultimate. I don’t lack, I’m not incomplete. I’m not merely content being single. I’m satisfied.


As one smiling, thankful Gumtree customer after another collected their free chairs, tables and random dust-collecting oddments, the weight began to lift from my shoulders. I imagined what it would be like to purchase furniture for my new rental that didn’t make me cringe, and that I actually enjoyed using.

Three months later, I did just that—along with new linen, plants, furnishings, and a veggie patch. This is an embarrassingly mundane paragraph for me to write. Except that these changes embodied a defining paradigm shift that brought with it unforeseen contentment. My life was no longer on hold for some future, imagined event. In fact, even the word contentment—implying toleration—fails to capture it. I’m now not merely content being single. I’m satisfied.

If I marry and have children, it will be a blessing from God and a dream fulfilled. I think marriage and family are incredible, and I love and support my many friends who are enjoying that life stage. But for me, marriage is no longer ultimate. I don’t lack, I’m not yearning, incomplete or discontent. I’m not unmarried. I’m single. See the difference?

The Shrine to Romance

You can’t go through an experience like this and not have it affect the way you think about other spheres of life. For me, as a pastor, this has made me question some of Christian culture’s fundamental values.


In the church, have we gone beyond marriage is good to marriage is ultimate?


Rightly, church communities place a high value on marriage, children and family. God does: so should we.

Parallel to this, the world would have us believe that romance is everything—that the companionship, sex and fulfilment found in an intimate relationship is the summit of a lifelong search, the fullest expression of what it means to be human.

Could it be that the Christian culture I grew up in confused those two messages? In the paragraph above, have we simply replaced the word romance with marriage? Have we gone beyond marriage is good to marriage is ultimate? Has family become a synonym for fulfilment?

We Celebrate What We Value

That message may not be preached, but from the vantage point of a single, it seems widely implied. Scripture esteems singleness as perhaps even preferable to marriage in the freedom it affords us to serve the Lord without distraction. But where is singleness celebrated in the church?

Church-wide events are shaped predominantly with the family unit in mind. Unlike engaged couples, singles who decide to remain as they are instead of settling for a poor choice in life partner aren’t applauded. Community matriarchs are more likely to enquire with young people about a rumoured relationship than the joys and struggles of ministry as a single person. Singles aren’t honoured with glorious ceremonies, lavish banquets and generous gift-giving for consecrating themselves to single-minded service to God.

I don’t think singleness needs to be lauded with all the pageantry of marriage. But I am trying to identify a sanctified idolatry, widespread in Christian culture: if you’re married, you’ve made it. If you’re single, don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually.

With this message we do a great injustice to singles. The words second class citizen spring to mind.


Singleness is just as “Christian” as marriage. So how can singles be celebrated in church life?


We do a great injustice to those in our midst struggling with same-sex attraction. If even after much prayer that attraction remains for a lifetime and they choose to walk the narrow way of Jesus, our message to them is that even with such selfless sacrifice, they’ll never make it.

We also do a great injustice to the many young people who, and I’m quoting now, “just had to get married because I couldn’t be alone”. Isn’t God supposed to fulfil of that depth of longing? This injustice is multiplied when the one they married doesn’t walk with Jesus. They have the love they were told was the end-game, but now ministry is a lonely road, or far worse, an abandoned one.

Singleness isn’t better than marriage. But it’s certainly not worse. According to Scripture, singleness is just as “Christian” as marriage. What we celebrate as a community makes it clear what we value as a community. So I’ll just leave this question here: how can singles be celebrated in church life?

Singleness Can’t Be Done Alone

Like marriage, singleness has its pros and cons. I admire my older sister and my brother-in-law who with incredible patience and skill are raising three adorably mischievous boys I get to call my nephews. And I breathe a sigh of relief when we tuck the boys into bed after Monday night dinners and I wonder at how they survive each day.

I’m thankful for uninterrupted sleep, the freedom of a dawn surf whenever my calendar allows, quiet times that are in fact quiet, and the ability to work a 60 hour week at church when I need to, without any of my relationships paying the price. Paul was for real when he wrote about the undivided priorities of the single life.


Singles don’t have families of their own, so they love being made part of one.


But I’m also thankful to people who understand its difficulties—like my older sister and her family (and other friends—you know who you are) who don’t “host” me for “events” but consider me a member of the family, welcome anytime. Singles don’t have families of their own, so they love being made part of one.

I’m thankful to those who understand that I’m a verbal processor and, without a partner to debrief the day with, know to ask, “how was your day?”

I’m thankful for the many people in my church who recognise that though I don’t have a family to go home to, and though my time is therefore flexible, I still need boundaries and time out and opportunities to just be me, not a pastor.

Right Where God Has Me

Last year when I was still unmarried, puzzled, my senior pastor asked me why I’d been taking so few holidays. I was aware that this was the case, but likewise couldn’t work out why. I love time off. And then it occurred to me: married couples have guaranteed company when they holiday, but for me, four weeks of time away alone would only remind me of how desperately lonely and unmarried I was.


Singleness has its challenges, and it takes some creativity—and the considered help of others—to do it well. But it can be done well.


Now I’m single. As I write this, I also happen to be on holidays, on a beach on the NSW coast. I’m away camping with my younger, also single sister. Tomorrow I’m hiking for four days with a mate who’s married but knew I had holidays and invited me along. I’m thankful for people like this too. Singleness has its challenges, and it takes some creativity—and the considered help of others—to do it well. But it can be done well.

Life hasn’t turned out quite the way I expected. I’ll never be married at 21. I won’t be a young dad like I once hoped. I’ve had to grieve over that. I’ve loved and lost, more than once. It hurt, more than I naively imagined it could. I’m single—not for want of trying, but because it seems this is where God wants me, for now at least. Like marriage, it’s not ultimate. But it is good, and I am thankful.

* The other odd circumstance was being hosted, along with a bunch of pastors, by Kimberly Smith, where she gave us a copy of her book, What We Cannot Be Alone: Understanding Singleness In God’s Family. Thanks Kim for giving me language to express these thoughts. If you’re single, and especially if you’re married (for the sake of singles) please buy it and read it.

11 comments

  1. Vicki Nunn · April 28, 2016

    Thank you for sharing a little of your journey.

    It seems like only last year that I was a 31 year old Christian and single. I’m now 52 and still a single Christian. Does God have marriage in mind for me? I haven’t the foggiest – and that’s perfectly ok. I long ago came to accept that marriage may well not be part of my journey.

    I’m so pleased that you have been able to come to that point of accepting your singleness. I have met many singles over the years who were resisting it, every step of the way. They were angry with God or were doing anything but doing what God wanted of them. There are still many others I’ve met who have come to terms with their singleness, and accept that that is what God has called them to be – whether for a short-time or a life-time.

    Though my health has declined over the years, and I can no longer do the ministries to which God had originally called me in my 20s and 30s, He has given me new purpose and joy in a new ministry: I am the Editor of a magazine for Christian singles: SPAG Magazine (Single Person Approved by God) It seeks to encourage, challenge and empower Christian single people in their walk.

    The magazine is free and available from our website: http://www.spagmag.com.

    You may like to read my article “Where is my soul-mate?” https://spagmag.com/articles/article-where-is-my-soul-mate/

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    • kmahlburg · May 2, 2016

      Hi Vicki, thanks so much for your feedback and encouragement. Wow that’s some journey you’ve been on. Isn’t an eternal perspective just the best? God’s plans are bigger than our desires, and they ultimately fulfil longings far deeper than the things we think to need in the wrestles of this life. God’s blessings on you as you continue to serve with the magazine – I look forward to having a read 🙂

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      • Vicki Nunn · May 4, 2016

        Dear Kurt I’d love to include your article in an upcoming issue of SPAG Magazine – perhaps in the September edition. It would be good for the men who read the magazine to hear from another man’s perspective about coming to terms with their singleness. May I have your permission to use it in an upcoming issue of SPAG Magazine? I will include a link to your webpage and would appreciate it if you could provide a photograph and a small biography to include with it as well. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. Regards Vicki NunnEditorSPAG Magazine+61 4 44 33 772www.spagmag.com

        From: Kurt Mahlburg To: spagmag@yahoo.com.au Sent: Monday, May 2, 2016 10:05 PM Subject: [New comment] Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single #yiv7498389015 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7498389015 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7498389015 a.yiv7498389015primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7498389015 a.yiv7498389015primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7498389015 a.yiv7498389015primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7498389015 a.yiv7498389015primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7498389015 WordPress.com kmahlburg commented: “Hi Vicki, thanks so much for your feedback and encouragement. Wow that’s some journey you’ve been on. Isn’t an eternal perspective just the best? God’s plans are bigger than our desires, and they ultimately fulfil longings far deeper than the things we th” | |

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  2. Stef · May 1, 2016

    I’m not the commenting type, but a friend of mine just sent me this article & oh my goodness, it articulates the tension between enjoying/enduring singleness & the church’s response SO well.
    Everytime I start a conversation around the place of single females in church, things get really quiet, really fast. This is so, so good.

    Like

    • kmahlburg · May 2, 2016

      Hey Stef, so glad to hear you found the article helpful. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

      Like

  3. emberlivingblog · May 31, 2016

    Love this article! I’m 21, Christian, and single. I just wrote a similar article about this because the church does not always view singleness the way that it should. https://emberlivingblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/30/glorifying-god-in-singleness
    I am glad you have found purpose and peace where God has placed you for the time being!

    Like

    • kmahlburg · June 23, 2016

      Thanks for the encouragement, and I’m glad you found it helpful. Nice work with yours too!

      Like

  4. kirstmac · October 10, 2016

    Hi Kurt, this was beautifully written – thankyou. I think you’re asking really important questions and putting language around something that is important to both singles and non-singles in the church and beyond really.

    Your question around longing in particular resonated – ” Isn’t God supposed to fulfill of that depth of longing?” the longing for, and perhaps more-so the ‘getting’ of a relationship can be something we hide behind to stem our actual desire for relationship with God – I was just reading yesterday a quote from Matthew Jacoby that struck a chord with me –

    “When we get ourselves into a momentum of relational renewal with God, then everything else comes into alignment. We are then able to relate to other people as people, without their having to fill the void that the absence of God creates in our hearts.”

    anyway…Really good stuff. Look forward to reading more from you!

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    • kmahlburg · October 19, 2016

      Hey Kirstin, thanks for reading and leaving a comment! So glad you found it helpful. I’ve had so many conversations in the last few days to the same effect. Marriage is great, but it is far from ultimate. All sorts goes wrong, for singles and marrieds, when we pretend otherwise!

      Like

  5. Pingback: How Same-Sex Marriage Might Help the Church | Culture, Worldview and Life with Jesus
  6. smallgirlbiggod · April 29

    Hello Kurt,

    I am so grateful to have been able to read this. I came across the link for this post on Ms. Kimberly Smith’s blog. This has blessed me so much.

    “Life hasn’t turned out quite the way I expected. I’ll never be married at 21. I won’t be a young dad like I once hoped. I’ve had to grieve over that. I’ve loved and lost, more than once. It hurt, more than I naively imagined it could. I’m single—not for want of trying, but because it seems this is where God wants me, for now at least. Like marriage, it’s not ultimate. But it is good, and I am thankful.”

    I am single at this moment in time and possibly might be for all my lifetime in this world. But in the age to come, when the Bride comes to meet the Bridegroom and be with Him for eternity, when that time comes… it will be a time of joy and full satisfaction. You are so right. It all goes back to a longing in our hearts that really in reality can only be filled by Jesus.

    One of my favourite quotes by CS Lewis
    “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

    No wonder Paul was so sure in his calling. He was so given to the Lord, his desire was for Him first and foremost. His ultimate longing was to be with the Lord. He was able, even with all the temptations, still persevere in his faith by His grace. What amazing things he has been able to accomplish in his single life. And what gift the New Testament is to us now but the Lord could have used someone else to write most of it if Paul had focused on things that weren’t his for that time. What amazing honour that he got to be a part of that. I want to be the same. I want to live a life of significance, for my life to be a platform for His glory. This post has been truly inspiring.

    I have had the great privilege of hearing Kimberly preach as I go to a church where she used to pastor. I really praise Jesus for people like you and Kimberly who are strong in the faith and courageously speak truth in these times.

    May your love for Him only grow and may it take you to places of service you’ve never thought of being before. What exciting times for all of us… the singles and the not singles.

    Blessings!
    Steph

    Like

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