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FABS HARFORD: Articulating the Christian faith.
Kevin Vandivier/Genesis
FABS HARFORD: Articulating the Christian faith.

Single but not solitary

Relationships | These unmarried Christians face disappointments but find with Christ they are not alone

Issue: "The Battle for Africa," Feb. 8, 2014

Mike Sense glanced around the room at his Covenant Seminary classmates. Most had gold rings gracing their left hands. He thought bitterly, “Everyone in this room is getting what they want and I’m not.” 

At 32 and one of the few single men in his St. Louis seminary, Sense honestly voices his frustration: “Wait, God, I’ve moved to the other side of the world for you, I’ve served you and forgone money and fortune—and this one thing I ask for, I don’t get?”

While Sense has been in relationships, none of them have worked out. As he watches friend after friend get married and have kids, he knows theologically that God is not unjust, and he understands that singleness has upsides: more time to care for his friends and help them through their problems. But there’s always the lonely drive home to an empty house. 

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Despite the rise of cohabitation and changing attitudes about marriage, many Christians continue to hold a high view of the institution and yet find themselves single. As Valentine’s Day approached, I spoke with a dozen of them to uncover the struggles they face and the consolation they find as they brave an uncertain future not of their own choosing.

SOME CHRISTIAN young women complain about their male counterparts’ unwillingness to commit, but Sense has never struggled that way. He views marriage as a “beautiful thing the Lord has graciously given so that man and woman can flourish and have places of safety and trust.” Lately he’s been feeling a deep desire for children, which coming from a man seems to surprise his friends: “When women share that … people receive it in stride.”

In Los Angeles, Gina Fenwick, 42, approaches the end of her childbearing years and still has not found a husband: “The biological clock is ticking. At 30 I didn’t focus so much on marriage, I just assumed it would happen. … I still believe that I will get married, but maybe years down the line. I kind of realize I need to give up my dream of having children.”

Fenwick, who has been celibate since professing Christ 12 years ago, admits that she has days when it’s a fight to stay pure in a city that bombards her with erotic messages. Sometimes she’s tempted to take things into her own hands and find someone–anyone–to fill that void. But as her relationship with God grows, she’s been seeing what’s really at stake. “If I entertain these thoughts, I’m going to lose so much more than giving my body away: It’s going to impact my relationship with God, the church, and my community.”

As a single woman, she has had the time to serve in her church’s prayer ministry, lead a post-abortion group at a local pregnancy center, and help others in her community group. Most of her friends in L.A. are single, so she spends time meeting up with them for dinner, going to concerts, and hosting game nights.

FABS HARFORD, a 31-year-old serving in the women’s ministry at Austin Stone Community Church in Texas, describes her feelings about singleness as a pendulum that swings between a pity party and being OK with where she is.

Harford has felt pressured to get married ever since professing Christ a decade ago. But as she’s grown in her faith, her reasons for wanting to tie the knot have also matured: Now she desires marriage as a covenant binding together husband and wife and requiring grace and forgiveness. Even as she hears from her married friends about difficulties, she wants to experience the sanctifying benefits of marriage and have the opportunity to act out the gospel in someone else’s life.

When she joined the church staff seven years ago, she didn’t mind being single—most of the other women on staff were single as well. But over the years, as she’s attended weddings and baby showers, her thoughts began to change: “The harder struggle with singleness is not even wanting someone, but being confused as to why someone doesn’t want me. … Why did no one pick me? Am I too fat? Too annoying? Is my personality bad?” 

Harford turned to blogging to work through these issues. In 2010, she started a series that looks at how many of the struggles of singleness—loneliness, rejection, lost dreams—are actually blessings pointing her toward Christ. Her most popular post was “Blessings of Singleness #5: Lack of Physical Intimacy.” Who determines what she needs most? she asked: Her body? Or God? Her conclusion: God “doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never be hungry. He promises to give me everything I need to not starve to death on the road home to Him.”

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