I was fifteen going on sixteen when I first got the inclination that I might not be destined for marriage. This was despite growing up reading a ton of romance novels and despite growing up and being nurtured in the midst of strong family bonds, and despite being surrounded by couples or people hoping to become one.
Throughout my growing up years, I don’t remember ever hearing a conversation that affirmed not wanting to be in a relationship or married. However, I do remember having to ‘force’ myself to embrace the idea of being part of a couple. Even years later when I dated, coupling and marriage thoughts occurred in my mind more out of effort, rather than as a natural need or want.
I was fifteen going on sixteen when I first got the inclination that I might not be destined for marriage, nor would it be part of God’s plan for my life. As a young Christian and without any affirming messages in church and society (other than the Roman Catholic Sisters/Nuns), I didn’t understand what the Spirit was saying to me. I was fourteen going on fifteen when I first received the call to ordained ministry. That, I understood fully but my father didn’t (because there were no models of clergywomen in the Nigerian Anglican Church), so I was required to pursue my previous chosen path while clarifying the call I heard. Many years and a degree in a medical science later, I received and answered the call to full time ministry.
Equally, lack of affirming postures, practices and theologies of singleness resulted in my submitting myself to accept a life similar to those around me: date boys and aim for marriage, even if neither sparked passion in me. It felt more like a duty…
Many years of dating and a marriage and a divorce later, I have found the courage to reconnect with, explore and own what I first knew in my spirit at fifteen years: I am not created for marriage. I love people. I love and affirm the gift of marriage in others, but it has never been a desire that sprang up on its own in me.
I had just turned forty when I started to ask myself about what I really wanted in life, and I found that marriage was nowhere on that list. The relationships on that list were multiple sincere friendships without sexual attachments and authentic (Christian) community. I found that I did not need or want to marry to have a handyman who could fix broken things around the house. I could either fix them myself, or else ask a friend or hire someone to fix them. Marrying so as to have someone do the heavy lifting around the house seemed a petty reason for marriage.
As a single parent, it would have been nice to have someone help with household and parenting chores, as well as help with the bills. Yet, observation of the lives of married couples showed that being married was not necessarily a guarantee that one’s partner always automatically shared these responsibilities. Thus, I concluded that marriage was not the answer to such needs for help. Help comes from members of society who are willing to function as members of our community.
Also, whereas the body’s biological rhythms sometimes made me horny, I was not interested in having sex to satisfy those urges. Masturbation could easily satisfy those needs and I did not see the need to create a relationship just for five minutes of sexual activity once or twice every month. As I grew older, even the horniness almost disappeared and I would go for months at a time without experiencing it.
I share these experiences to highlight the societal/cultural expectations, as well as the biological rationalizations for marriage. Church (excluding the Roman Catholic Church) and society mandate marriage (you will never be considered for certain jobs except you are married), and you are told that your body’s natural sexual rhythm is an argument for marriage. Actually, the latter is a lie. Despite many Christians naming sex as a reason to get married, Paul’s advise in Scripture is based on ‘if you cannot control your need for sex’ (1 Cor.7:9), NOT ‘marry so you can have sex’ which many in church and society have erroneously perpetuated.
I have come to the conclusion that there would be less divorces and more happier marriages if singleness were more affirmed and embraced equally alongside marriage. This allows people know they have a choice -enough scriptural conversations exist to affirm the fact that marriage should never be forced upon anyone nor should anyone be manipulated into embracing marriage. These conversations present the idea of ‘choice’ between singleness and marriage. This is why Jesus easily existed as a single man and despite all the criticisms of Jesus by his enemies, not one of those criticisms were about his single state.
Singleness and marriage are equal representations of the Imago Dei. No one is less the image of God for choosing one or the other, because singleness and marriage each contribute to the flourishing of society, that continuation of God’s will for humanity and creation. Church and society can demonstrate this equal worthiness and affirmation of singleness and marriage in the church by upholding and providing role models for both.
All too often, the model of singleness upheld in church and society is that of a single ‘waiting’ to be married. However, that is not the only kind of single(ness) that exists in Christian history.
Jesus’ ministry itself highlights a couple of unmarried women, Mary and Martha, who contributed greatly to Jesus’ ministry. Nowhere is Jesus recorded chastising these two women about their lack of marriage, nor persuading or preaching that their lives needed the fulfillment of marriage. [It would also appear that their brother, Lazarus, who lived with them and whom Jesus rose from the dead was also single. So here was a family of single people!] On the contrary, we see Jesus humble those who valued marriage above their humanity. We see Jesus tell them that human fulfillment is rooted in doing God’s will, not in having sexual relations or marriage. He went further to tell them that marriage is non-existent in heaven!!!
Yet, of all the things Christians aspire and look forward to about Jesus’ coming, the church conveniently forgets to mention that singleness is something we ought to learn how to embrace and affirm on earth here, because that is what exists in heaven! [Matthew 22:19-20]
If the goal of being Christian is to live as we would live in the presence of God in the new heaven and the new earth, and since Jesus, the only one to have seen God face to face, has told us that life in the new heaven and new earth does not include marriage, shouldn’t the church create more room for singles and singleness in theology, ministry and practice? Shouldn’t the church on earth be now heavily invested in learning how to live the abundant life as single people whose lives, work and ministries are critical and vital to the life of the church and society?
I believe that one common mistake many make is that if you are single, i.e., unmarried, you are out of relationship. Yet, single people have more access to relationships than married people. So why the false ideology and notions of ‘aloneness’ as it concerns singleness?
The real issue at play is that married folks and those seeking marriage ostracize and discriminate against single folks. This ostracization and discrimination creates a sense of lack in single people which then makes single people gravitate towards marriage in order to gain acceptance in society and church.
Removing this discrimination against single people would allow church and society learn and benefit from the relationship-creating capacity of single people. This is a necessary gift for enriching and creating and strenghening church and community bonds.
Church, it is time to start honoring in our bodies and relationships, that which we shall all be when we meet Jesus face to face – single.
May we find the courage to affirm the older singles in our midst, but also create room in church and society to embrace, affirm and model that not everyone has to choose physical intimacy or marriage to be fully accepted into church and society. Neither is our worthiness or the worthiness of our contributions determined by marriage or singleness, but rather by the fact that each person, whether married or single, is inherently worthy because he, she, or they are created in God’s image and will one day stand before God in this capacity – single and equal with all others.