Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Singledom is Not the Ideal, But Neither is Marriage

Last week's post "On the Single Path" came out of several recent conversations and a video Mike Cope posted over on his blog about women and ministry. I'm not, now, talking about women's role in ministry, but what I found interesting about Dr. Ben Witherington's video, and why I bring it up, is what he has to say about "being single for the sake of the kingdom."

Witherington pulls apart Matthew 19:11-12, a statement Jesus makes in response to the disciples asking if it is better not to marry at all since divorce is such a big no-no. Jesus responds, well, if you can accept it, than yes. You can chose to be eunuch-like (or single) for the sake of the kingdom. In other words, if you think you can better serve the kingdom of God by remaining single, then go to it.

This was a radical teaching for first century Jews who took God at His word when He commanded "be fruitful and multiply" and expected good Jews to follow this commandment with all due diligence. Being single in order to better serve the Lord was unheard of except for your occasional, half-crazed prophet and actual eunuchs.

In my current single state, I find this teaching freeing. I too, while not being fruitful and not multiplying, can serve for the sake of the kingdom and do so for the sake of God. Marriage is not a prerequisite for a good story played out to the glory of God. And there is great opportunity here for the Church to be completely radical and shift the marriage paradigm. Marriage for the sake of the kingdom, good. Being single for the sake of the kingdom, also good.

I'm picturing a Church were we dispose of marriage as the ideal and we reshape "single" to no longer be a loaded word packed with negative connotations but filled up with possibility.

Singledom is not the ideal, but neither is marriage. The ideal, rather, is living a life to the good of God. Isn't that what it was always meant to be?

To be clear, I'm not marriage bashing here. I believe fully in marriage, and am so thankful for my parents, friends and mentors who have remained committed to their marriages and been good examples of what godly marriage can be. And I think and hope marriage is a one day prospect for me, but all my hopes are not pinned on it. I know I can live a full kingdom-kind of life today even while trusting for a different kingdom-kind of life later on down the road.

For singles out there who don't see marriage ahead for them, not because they've given up hope but because they actually don't believe marriage to be best for them, how freeing might it be if we removed the pressure to get married and instead responded with an "I'm excited for you and for how God is going to use you in His kingdom. How can I walk alongside you in your journey?"

For singles who want marriage but have given up hope or seem to be hanging in limbo waiting for marriage, how freeing might it be if we stood alongside them in their disappointment and heartache but then exhorted and encouraged them to discover a story worth writing in how they live their life today and not how they might live their life tomorrow?

For singles who are newly single for whatever reason, how freeing might it be if we wept and prayed with them over their very real loss and then helped them pick up the pieces and find a way to live a good story in the midst of their pain? And to not only live a good story but find healing in the story?

I am convinced we can do better for everyone. For as much time and effort as we put in to helping each other have good marriages with our seminars and classes and retreats, I am convinced we can help each other have equally good single lives.

I am also convinced singles can do better in supporting the marriages around us. We need to avoid jealousy, bitterness and third-wheel syndrome in order to stand alongside married couples and help them lift up their marriages and exhort them to live a good story, adding to the bigger kingdom story.

We all have a vital role to play in the Story, and it matters whether we choose to live a good story or not. Whether married or single, our stories matter.

How can we better support singled and married friends and help them to live better stories?

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