I happen to be in a very small minority. I’m in my thirties, I’m an ordained minister in the PCA, and I’m still single. As I get older, I’ve come to see more and more the blessings of singleness. I have learned to appreciate the freedom and simplicity of being able set my own schedule, spend my own money, and pursue my own interests (like blogging, for example) without needing anyone else’s permission. I never have to worry about the inevitable daily conflicts that arise when two sinful humans join their lives together permanently in marriage.
On the other hand, there are times when going home in the evening to nothing but Netflix and a personal-size DiGiorno pizza gets pretty old. I have wonderful friends and family, but as more and more of my friends get married, I sometimes feel left standing in the rain. I find myself asking questions like, Is something wrong with me? Am I being too selfish? Will I be alone forever?
And yet I also find comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one in this boat. I know that there are many other believers out there wrestling with these same questions. That’s why I was so encouraged to read Kate Hurley’s book Cupid Is a Procrastinator: Making Sense of the Unexpected Single Life (Harvest House Publishers, 2015). Kate, herself a thirtysomething single Christian and a blogger at The Sexy Celibate, devotes about 250 pages to reflecting on the joys and sorrows of the unmarried life.
It’s not a work of academic theology. There is no in-depth exegesis of biblical texts or discussion of systematic categories. But there is plenty of wise, honest, and vulnerable soul-searching—peppered with several personal anecdotes—all written in a manner that makes Kate winsome and relatable. Further, Kate does not offer any formulas for escaping singleness (“Do X, Y, and Z, and you’ll find the spouse of your dreams”). Rather, her goal is to give realistic hope, deconstruct some of the illusions about marriage and singleness, and point to God’s love and care toward us in the midst of life’s difficulties.
In terms of giving realistic hope, Kate admits frankly, “Being single sucks” (43). This statement is situated in the aptly titled “Rant Chapter,” where she acknowledges the appropriateness of lamenting our loneliness. This is not a sign of ingratitude toward God; rather, “thankfulness and grieving don’t have to be mutually exclusive” (56). While singleness can sometimes be a source of delight, it can just as often feel more like bondage than freedom. There is a certain sense of loss that accompanies prolonged singleness, which Kate describes as a form of disenfranchised grief. As we get older, the cultural expectation (especially in the church) is that people should get married and start families of their own. But for some reason or another—whether by choice or by circumstance—many of us do not live up to that expectation.
Unfortunately, many well-meaning married folks in the church simply don’t know how to offer the right kind of encouragement or advice to singles. Instead they give trite formulas like, “If you just learn to let go, then God will provide you a spouse” (48). But what does it even mean to “let go?” Does that mean “stop desiring?” Are we Christian or are we Buddhist?! Or some will say, “When you least expect to find your spouse, he [or she] will come right around the corner” (117). But this is a false hope. Many Christians find their spouse when they are looking, and others spend their whole lives looking but not finding. Further, this sort of advice implies that singles are somehow to blame for their own plight. It’s the kind of mechanical, simplistic theology offered by Job’s friends—miserable comforters indeed!
Others will say to singles, “Marriage is so hard, you don’t realize how good you have it!” To be fair, there is some truth to this that is worth acknowledging. There are some ways in which singles do have it better than married people. Whether one chooses the married life or the single life, there is inevitably going to be some kind of trade-off: intimacy along with conflict, or freedom along with loneliness (a somewhat over-simplified picture, but you get the idea). Further, each life has its own seasons of ups and downs.
For those down seasons in the single life, Kate provides some very important reminders. She reminds us that as many times as we fall, God will be there to pick us up: “God has rescued me before. He will rescue me again” (40). This is an oft-repeated theme in the Psalms, and it comforts us when loneliness (or struggles of any kind) is at its sharpest. God has been faithful in the past, and he will continue to be faithful. I have known seasons when singleness was so difficult that it pushed me into depression; but I have also experienced great joy in singleness. Emotions come and go, but God’s promises remain firm.
Now contrary to what many of the televangelists would tell us, God does not promise us all health and wealth. I can’t predict the future, and although I hope for a family someday, it is entirely possible that I will spend the rest of my life unmarried. There are no guarantees here, a fact which Kate acknowledges. Even so, she resolutely declares, “I refuse to let my belief in the goodness of God rest on whether or not I have a family” (233). The presence or absence of a spouse in one’s life does not change who one is in Christ, and it certainly does not change who God is. He is and always will be the good King, and whatever our lot in life, we can still be faithful servants for his kingdom.
So for those of us who are still waiting, what can we do in the meantime? Kate offers several useful suggestions: for one, we should learn to set realistic expectations for our spouse-to-be. This means prioritizing character over external appearances (speaking as a guy, I have to admit that this is easier said than done, but I’m working on it). Further, we should learn to set responsible boundaries in dating, rather than give up on dating altogether (she has plenty of criticisms of the I-kissed-dating-goodbye philosophy). We should also fight the constant temptation toward self-absorption by devoting ourselves to a particular cause or ministry about which we feel passionate. We singles often have lots of extra time on our hands, so we should use it for God’s glory. In addition, we need to be intentional about living in community; being single doesn’t mean that we have to go it alone.
I would recommend this book not only for struggling singles, but also for married Christians who want to know how better to minister to adult singles in the church. This is so often a neglected demographic in our congregations, and we need to move beyond pat answers and superficial advice. Cupid Is a Procrastinator is definitely a step in the right direction.