Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Two Ways To Waste Your Singleness| Part 1

As a single man it is very interesting the responses people make when they hear that I am not married. These responses largely fall into two groups. Some people (usually non-Christians) respond by saying something like, "It's nice that you're not tied down by a wife and children." Others (usually Christians), however, say something to the effect that "Have you thought about settling down and finding a wife and children?". These kinds of statements remind me a little of icebergs - there is a lot more to them than meets the eye, so watch out that they don't shipwreck you!

These two groups of statements reveal two ways of thinking about singleness, both of which, when lived out, are two ways to waste your singleness. Over a couple of posts I want to explore these two singleness-wasting opportunities, and how we can avoid them. In this post I shall look at the first way of thinking and living out our singleness, which I have called The 'Life Ends' Syndrome. In the second post I shall think about The 'Life Begins' Syndrome.

The 'Life Ends' Syndrome
One way to waste your singleness is to believe that life ends if you get married. This mindset grows up out of a worldview that has a low view of God's gift of marriage. Therefore, people in this camp are reluctant to pursue marriage. This is the mindset that sees the groom and his friends 'celebrate his last days of freedom' before the 'slavery' of marriage comes. At its most extreme this mindset produces men and women who are hostile to marriage, convinced that they will never 'be tied down' by getting married, and feel sorry for those who are married. However, we are much more likely to see it in people who simply put off marriage for the moment as something that will come later after they have 'experienced life'.

The reason that we begin to believe that life ends when we get married is that we are making an idol out of our personal freedom. This is revealed in setiments like: "I want to enjoy and experience life now while I have the chance." Which, when translated, says: "The only way I can make the most of life is by living how I want, with no regard to others, and no-one restricting me from doing what I want to do." This can be lived out in a number of ways: for some it will mean doing what I want by ensuring that I'm at every party or social event; for others it will mean spending lots on exotic trips all around the world to 'experience the world'; for still others it will mean devoting every waking hour to advancing my career. All of them are different expressions of living to do what I want and to serve myself.

When we worship at the altar of personal freedom, the purpose of my life becomes doing what I want without any regard to anyone else. Therefore, relationships with others become barriers to me really making the most of life, so I avoid committing to others in any meaningful way. When we apply this to singleness, it means that my singleness essentially boils down to a single person - me. I am here to serve me. Other people are just a nusciance that get in the way of me. Therefore, marriage becomes the end of real life, of really living, because then I'll have to start thinking about someone else and serve others besides myself.

This is a way to waste your singleness. It is a denial, not only of what our singleness is for, but also of what we're for. The whole duty and calling of every human being is to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). An unwasted life is a life that is lived in a fiercely loyal love to God. This is our calling and duty whether we're old or young, married or unmarried, whatever nation, people group or background we come from: we must love God. However, when we let ourselves be shaped by the 'life ends' syndrome, this duty and calling is twisted to become: 'love myself with heart, mind, soul and strength.' This is blatant sin. The purpose of our singleness is not for us to be undividedly devoted to ourselves, but to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35). It is a status in life that God has given to us so that we might bring Him glory by loving Him with all who we are, what we have, and what we do and think.

The way this love for God is expressed and worked out in daily life is in love for others. When Jesus summarises the law He says "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus is not saying that these are two parallel commandments that somehow we have to keep in balance. No. Rather, the second is a practical expression of the first. Therefore, as an expression of my love for God I will love my neighbour. The way I love others is obviously going to take a different shape as a single person, than as a married person, but I am called to glorify God by loving others in sacrificial service nonetheless.

This means that my single life is not to be one where I live to please myself and therefore relationships are shallow and commitment to others is often avoided. Rather, my single life (whether I am only single for the next year, or for ninety years) is to be a life committed to glorifying God in the sacraficial service of others. Our single lives ought to be filled with deep and committed relationships, relationships where we are constantly seeking the eternal good of others. There are many ways in which singles can do this that married folk cannot, just as there are many opportunities for married people to live out this other-personed love that single people cannot.

We need to remember that this transformation is not something that we can do for ourselves. We cannot just roll up our sleeves and try to love God better. Our hearts are naturally sinful and curved in on ourselves. It is only the gospel of God's grace that can transform us. It is in the gospel that we see the ultimate lover of God and lover of others. Jesus, who never married, did not waste His life, rather He gladly laid down His life in sacrificial service of others to secure their eternal good (Philippians 2:6-11). It is to Him that we must look to be transformed into lovers of God, and therefore lovers of others.