“Don’t worry about finding a spouse.”
“Trust God to bring you to the right person.”
“You’ll find your spouse when you stop looking.”
“Be content being single.”
Do any of the above expressions sound familiar? They make their rounds in our Christian culture. They all point to the same sentiment, namely, a Christian shouldn’t worry about finding a spouse but be content with being single, trusting God with what happens. The idea of being content in singleness is pretty big in Christian literature. Books such as Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye or Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story encourage Christians to be content with single life as they focus on pursuing God. I’ve noticed that the emphasis on contentment usually stems out of cases the authors have observed in their own lives and the lives of others where believers got into bad, ungodly relationships simply because they weren’t happy being single. In response, their books try to correct this serious problem.
But this can promote the opposite problem. Our Christian culture talks so loudly about being content in singleness that singles might not try to find a partner, feeling they should instead be happy with being single. Add to that the teaching that God will unite a person with his or her chosen spouse, and you have recipe for many well-meaning Christians to be incredibly passive about finding a spouse, expecting God to make the connection for them.
All this lends itself to a good question. How can we have a biblically appropriate contentment in singleness without being passive about finding a partner? What’s the difference between contentment and passivity?
Just To Clarify
Before discussing this issue, I have to first explain a couple premises from which I’m operating. Frequently, Christian books that encourage contentment in singleness support the behavior by saying God has chosen a particular person to be our spouse and will unite us with that person as we trust Him. I wholly disagree with this idea that God has chosen a particular person for each of us to marry. To learn more about why I believe this idea is unbiblical I recommend you to read the post Does God Have a Spouse Chosen For Me? Settling the question of God’s role in our love lives is crucial to the question of contentment since God’s role directly influences what sort of behavior is wise. So understand that in what follows I’m speaking with the underlying premises that (1) God gives us freedom to choose whether we marry, (2) God gives us freedom to chose whom we marry, and (3) our choices in marrying should be made in keeping with both God’s unique call on our individual lives and wisdom.
A Biblical Look At Contentment
So what does it mean to have a godly contentment? Perhaps the best place in the Bible where contentment is mentioned is in Philippians chapter 4. It’s there that Paul describes how he found the “secret of being content.”
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11b-13 (NIV)
Throughout Paul’s pursuit of God’s call on his life, Paul faced numerous experiences of being jailed, poor, hungry, in pain, and on the run. Yet in spite of all this he was able to say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” How could he be content? “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” It’s important to recognize that Paul wasn’t happy to be jailed, hungry, poor, or in pain. But he didn’t let those things stop him from fulfilling God’s call because he realized that God’s call and the strength of God that operated in him were greater than the difficulties he faced. That made Paul both willing and able to accept the difficult things he faced. This allows us to understand that godly contentment means being willing and able to accept whatever difficult or undesirable circumstances we face, walking in obedience to God’s call, through Christ who strengthens us.
So how do we apply that to our love lives? Well, the first thing I want to point out is that the Bible nowhere teaches that we’re supposed to be happy being single or that something’s wrong with us if we’d be happier married. (For that matter, there’s nothing wrong with us if we’d rather be single than married!) In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul actually gives a precedent that trying to remain single may be foolish when he says, “Now to the unmarried…I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9; NIV)
Throughout the rest of the chapter, Paul teaches that God doesn’t command us to either remain single or marry. Each person must consider his or her own unique calling from God and the degree of his or her desire to marry in determining whether to marry and whom to marry. This requires wisdom.
So if you’re a person who knows you want to marry, the wise thing to do is take action that promotes finding a spouse. The place passivity steps into the mix is where you fail to perform those actions that are wise and right considering your desire to marry.
The Active Harm of Passivity
Passive behavior is when a person fails to perform action that is right or appropriate in any given circumstance. This can occur in many aspects of life. It occurs in your love life when you know it’s good to take steps toward getting married but fail to do so. This might happen for a number of reasons. It could be because you think it’s more spiritual to wait for God to make things happen. It could be because you’re afraid to expose yourself to the emotional or social risks of pursuing romance. It could be because you’re just plain apathetic or lazy (hey, sometimes it’s easier to sit around and watch Netflix than put yourself out there). The problem with passivity is that it may feel easier now but it comes at a cost later. In her book The Dating Manifesto, Lisa Anderson talks about how she didn’t give much attention to finding a partner as she progressed through her twenties. Once she reached her thirties she started considering why she was still single and realized that she never gave the pursuit of romance enough active attention. If you want to get married one day but don’t take the steps necessary for that to happen then you may very well remain single for years. This may leave you increasingly frustrated. It can be very unwise to allow yourself to passively drift into such a situation.
Now this isn’t necessarily something that will happen to everyone. As I said earlier, each person must use wisdom in looking at his or her unique situation. Maybe you feel that you’d like to be married, but it isn’t critical for you. If you’re willing to dedicate your time to serving God without giving time to seeking a partner then that’s a great thing! In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul actually describes that sort of life as most excellent because it gives greatest priority serving God (not that looking for a spouse is wrong). However, you need to understand that there are two possibilities that can follow that choice. You might continue focusing on God and run into someone you want to marry without looking for him or her. If at that point you get married, great! But it’s also possible that you may progress through many years of your life without marrying. You need to consider if you’re willing to accept that. If you can accept a life of singleness, dedicating yourself to God, excellent! But if you know you should marry then wisdom may say it’s better to give some attention to actively opening the door to finding a spouse now.
Why Contentment Is Necessary
However, even if you actively do those things that engender toward finding a spouse, there’s no promise things will work out as you hoped. This is where we must be content without being passive. In spite of desiring and actively looking for a spouse, it’s altogether possible you’ll go a long time without finding him or her. At that point, you have a choice to make. Will you continue to be patient living the single life and pursuing God’s call or will you become impatient and jump into a relationship or marriage that’s unwise because you’re tired of waiting? We can be as active as we ought to be in seeking a spouse and still remain single. That may be incredibly difficult when facing the strain of the desires for companionship, affection, and sexual expression. It’s in that place we must live in godly contentment by the strength Christ gives us to endure.
Living It Out
So how are we to be content in our love lives without being passive? I think there are three things to remember:
- Love God above all. This is what gets everything else in line. Love God and obedience to Him and His call over your life more than having what you want.
- Considering God’s unique call over your life, wisely choose whether you want to pursue marriage. If you do, take active steps that lend themselves to finding a spouse.
- No matter how long you remain single when you’d rather be married, practice godly contentment by patiently remaining single until you find the right partner. Don’t compromise on remaining faithful to God’s call or on following wisdom in choosing a partner just because you’re tired of waiting.
I think by living according to these principles we can both live in contentment and not live in passivity. But please remember that what choices are best vary with each person. I don’t know how it would be best for you to live these principles out in your unique circumstances. If you’re unsure what to do in your life then I encourage you to talk with a trusted parent, pastor, or wise friend who can speak good spiritual direction into your life.
Other than that, I can offer one example from my own life of how these principles are being lived out. Over the last 1-3 years of my life I experienced a strong desire to have a significant other and move toward marriage. The problem was that I had virtually no prospects and wasn’t doing anything to find some. Since God is first in my life, I didn’t feel empty or like less of a person being single. I had plenty to do. But the tension between desiring a significant other and feeling stuck in singleness was eating me up psychologically. My passivity was costing me. A little over a year ago, a mentor of mine started challenging me on this. I realized through talking with him that the biggest reason I wasn’t putting myself out there was because I felt inept at doing so (since I had never learned or practiced the needed social skills) and felt incredibly nervous at the thought of approaching a woman. After several months of my mentor’s encouragement, I finally decided to take the jump and get started with internet dating. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I quickly discovered that just having opportunity to find a significant other alleviated the tension that had been eating me up psychologically. Ironically, by becoming active in looking for a spouse I also became more content with being single.
But let’s fast-forward to today. After a solid eight months of being active in seeking a significant other, I still don’t have a girlfriend. That’s okay. Christ is still the center of all I am, and I’m not torn up about being single. I continue to desire and look for a significant other (and I think I’d be happier with one), but I’m content with being single because I find my all in Christ. I’ve learned to be both content and active in my love life.
What about you? Do you feel that you’re both content and active in your love life? Do you struggle with one of those areas? Please share your story in the comments!
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