For many years I’ve devoured books, articles and talks on singleness, trying to capture the ever-elusive prize of contentment. But the feeling never seemed to last more than a few weeks.
The problem was that I was looking for quick fixes. I wanted contentment on my terms and by my timeline. Too often I desired it as a way to make my life easier—to get rid of these unpleasant feelings of loneliness and jealousy. My motivation was to feel better, rather than a yearning to know God more intimately and glorify him with my life.
I found there is no easy, neatly-packaged solution to taming the fire of discontentment. The ebb and flow of my feelings showed that joy hadn’t gripped me at a deep level. I’d settled for quick platitudes that didn’t actually pierce my heart:
Singleness enables you to serve God more. But I cared too much about myself to really rate that high on my list of priorities.
Marriage is actually really difficult, so you’re being spared pain. But life is hard for everyone, and I would have preferred the married type of difficult.
Yet while I wasn’t looking, God slowly and deliberately changed me. Sometimes it was painful, as I caught a glimpse into the deep chasm of my depravity. God set up a construction zone in my heart, excavating bitterness, self-pity, envy, and selfishness. It certainly hurt, but he was making room for the deep bliss I found in Jesus.
At other times, God used joy to correct my short-sightedness. Only such a kind and patient Father would rain down kindness when he could have been severe with my sin. He healed me with board game nights and long dinners with friends. He has given me the time and flexibility to do lots of ministry. I’ve spent countless hours reading and writing about theology. As an introvert, simply having plenty of solitude to recharge has been a great blessing.
More than anything else, God has given me an ever-increasing joy in my relationship with him. I’ve seen him provide everything I need (even if it’s not what I think I need). It’s not just a platitude: knowing Jesus truly is better than anything else. The further I swim in the deep seas of theology, I see his glory more and more clearly. And I’ve found it to be more satisfying than any earthly blessings.
David writes in one of his psalms:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
Over time, the posture of my heart has been moulded by this psalm. All God’s blessings became more than consolation prizes to soothe the sting of singleness. They are precious, treasured joys, and I know there will be real loss if I do get married. Rather than merely coping with being single, I rejoice that God is using this for my good.
I haven’t arrived at full contentment yet. I’d say nobody ever will, until we all have our sins completely washed away on that final day. Some mornings I wake up feeling particularly weak, having to rip myself from some fantasy world in my dreams. It takes a huge effort to drag myself to my Bible, open it up, and allow God to reorient my heart. I must preach to my own soul, as David did:
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13–14)
The “goodness” I wait for is no longer a husband—it’s more joy in Jesus.
I can trust God with singleness today. And tomorrow. Even when I imagine the possibility of a lifetime of singleness, it doesn’t seem so implausible as it once did. What’s another 60 years of singleness compared to the eternity of perfect joy to come?
The books, articles, and talks I’ve quarried for wisdom over the years truly have been helpful. They give me a better understanding of God’s plans for the world, and how marriage and singleness fit into that. They sing the virtues of singleness, and warn that marriage is not as rosy at it can appear.
But God wasn’t content to simply give me more head knowledge—he saw that I needed something deeper, something slower, and in his wisdom and kindness he has led me down the long road. There were (and still are) sins in my heart that I needed to confront and kill along the way.
I’m not at the end of the road yet. There is danger and breathtaking beauty ahead. For now, I’ve reached the top of a crest. It was a long and laborious climb upwards, but by the careful hand of God I’m blinking in the unexpected sunshine.