By David Metcalfe
June 25, 2020
A strange thing I’ve noticed a lot recently is the very intermingled nature of the secular and the spiritual. Like, I remember once doing a video chat with the missionaries, and we were talking about the role of suffering in the Christian life, and then suddenly my iPhone overheated and shut off, and I was like, “this darn material world we live in is hampering my spiritual growth!”.
When it comes to the topic of marriage and singleness, I experience both aspects. There are times when I read through verses and conference talks about marriage and it’s kind of this ethereal, intellectual, spiritual thing. But then there are other times when I’m sitting down to supper by myself and I think, “hmmm…I wish I had a cute girl to eat supper with and tell her interesting things that happened to me today.”
That’s why, in attempting to answer the question of whether it’s possible to enjoy life as a single person, I felt the need to divide it into two sections as such: 1) A theology of singleness, and 2) Practical living while single.
A Theology of Singleness
The Gift of Singleness…According To Paul
“I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” -1 Corinthians 7:7-8
Paul felt that singleness was a gift, and that marriage was an unfortunate necessity for people who were incapable of sexual morality. He goes on to argue in verse 32 that it is easier for people to serve God when they are single.
Is it possible that people might want to get married for more than merely necessity or immorality?
On a personal level, why would anyone want to fall in love? Why would anyone want to experience asking the love of their life to marry them? Why would anyone want to hold their newborn baby in their arms for the first time? Why would anyone want to teach their son how to play baseball and see them hit their first home run? Why would anyone want to experience the love of a family and the intimacy of relationship with a spouse they love?
And on a societal level, why would we ever want to raise children in homes with a loving father and mother? Why would Article 16 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” say that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society”?
On a spiritual level, why would God say that “man is not meant to be alone” and that “when a man finds a wife, he finds a good thing”?
In my opinion, Paul had his share of powerful revelations about Christ, but also had his fair share of absolute stupidity: not permitting women to speak or teach in church (1 Timothy 2:12), saying that women had to wear hats and men couldn’t (1 Corinthians 11:4-15), taking a very supportive approach to slavery (Ephesians 6:5), saying that he hopes the Pharisees castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12)…the list goes one, but I’d say it’s safe to say that Paul was a bit of a nutcase at times.
With marriage being such an obviously good thing, the fact that Paul would characterize the tragedy of singleness as a “gift” seems reason for me to categorize his view on that along with the other insane things he said.
One of the most prominent historical and modern manifestations of Paul’s view of singleness as being a better way to serve God is in the priesthood of the Catholic Church. The connections between the singleness doctrine and the rampant child molestations and closeted homosexuals are complicated, but nonetheless, hard to completely separate. But that aside, of the priests who serve because they honestly want to serve God, they are generally very good people. What you are then doing is taking the most kind, virtuous, godly men and taking them away from the family unit. They never get to be an example and leader in the home. In a world where good husbands and fathers are unfortunately rare, wouldn’t you want to give as many women and children the opportunity to have a good man in their family as possible? But no, they don’t, because apparently loving and serving your wife and children would be a “distraction” from serving God.
Mormons and Marriage
“The Family Proclamation”, an essential summary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ approach to the doctrine of families, says this in paragraph 7:
“The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
I put two especially important parts in bold. One is that marriage is “essential to His eternal plan”. Marriage is not some distraction or unfortunate necessity. And we can see that it’s certainly not a “gift” to miss out on God’s plan for your life!
The second is that successful families are built on “faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities”. This is showing that families are not only not a distraction from serving God, but actually a forum by which to serve God. The closeness of relationship we have with our family members is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn and practice the fruits of the spirit. In order for a marriage to last, both people have to learn how to have peace, patience, kindness, self control, and so many more Godly attributes!
But What Happens If You Can’t Get Married?
I remember in one institute class I attended, we were talking about the doctrine of marriage. The teacher was explaining that marriage is a covenant both between you and your spouse and also between you and God. You are promising that your marriage will exist as an expression of God’s will and love, to the best of your ability. He explained that this covenant is necessary to attain the highest level of glory in heaven.
I raised my hand, “But what if you can’t get married?” I asked. He looked at me and said, “Anyone can get married if they want to.” And I said, “but what if someone was really socially dysfunctional or unattractive?” and he said, “well, there is someone out there who will love them for who they are. But there may be some rare instances where an individual is not able to get married, for whatever reason, or they die before they are able to get married. In that case, there is the ability for them to be married in the spirit world, and God will make sure they find a spouse if they desire it.”
I don’t know if what he said is considered concrete church doctrine, but nonetheless, expresses a perspective that if marriage is an “essential part of God’s plan” for each person, that living a life honoring to God will inevitably lead to the opportunity for marriage. This doesn’t mean that you can just sit back and put no effort into it. A popular church phrase is “God loves our effort”. We have to work to serve others, to preach the gospel, to progress in our covenants, and to get married.
Practical Living While Single
The importance of the theological view I shared is to attempt to set up a practical lifestyle based on those concepts.
The first important concept is that singleness is not something to aspire to, but rather to progress away from. The second is that progressing away from singleness is about moving to a marriage and ultimately a family with children, where the mother and father lead them in a loving and gospel centred way. The third is that God is not going to just have the perfect marriage partner knock on your door and say, “let’s get married!”. It’s going to take effort.
I Guess God Wants Me To Ask Girls Out???
It’s funny to me that marriage is this big thing where you’re making a covenant with God and sealing to one another for eternity and so forth, but the practical nature of setting that up is like, “sup girl, you wanna get some 99 cent frosties at Wendy’s?”. The juxtaposition between spiritual and secular can feel extreme at times.
But that’s literally what has to happen. Like, in order to take part in God’s plan for your life, and His plan for the family, you have to show up to stuff, meet people, become interested in someone, ask them out, and hang out. So I don’t think it’s out of the question to say that, for single young men, asking girls out is a religious duty; equivalent to scripture study and taking the sacrament. And for single young women, it’s the same; they have to put themselves out there and agree to dates here and there (or just ask out the guy they like).
Boredom and Loneliness
When God said “it is not good for man to be alone” and then made a wife for Adam, He was right. It sucks to be alone. Adam probably got super bored and lonely hanging out with a bunch of animals all day. And unless you get a girlfriend at age 13, date for 5 years and then get married the day you turn 18, you will have to experience singleness at some point, and the difficulty that comes with it.
This difficulty obviously gets magnified by time and desire. For a 35 year old who has never been in a relationship and desperately wants to be married…holy crap, they have suffered a lot of the pain of singleness. They’ve probably watched all of their friends and siblings get married, and felt the immensity of the joy and love that they were missing out on. That is very sad for those people, and I don’t wish that situation on anyone.
It should be, and largely is, the goal of the church to facilitate the potential for young men and women to meet one another in hopes that they are all able to get married before age 30. This enables the majority of people to suffer singleness less, and to have the opportunity to have a large family, if they so choose.
But I think there are things you can do within singleness to distract yourself from the difficulty of it in regards to boredom and loneliness. You can be involved in a variety of constructive activities and pursuits- studying, working, developing skills, spending time with friends and family, going to fun events, etc.
Setting Up For Marriage
It’s important to work to become a good husband and father before you actually start doing it. A team needs to practice before they start playing competitive games. So too, you can view singleness as an opportunity to develop in preparation. Good husbands and fathers need to be able to provide financially for their family, they need to have good leadership and communication skills, they need to be faithful to their spiritual covenants, and they need to embody the fruits of the spirit.
I think it’s possible to view the reason for sustained singleness as a result of not being sufficiently prepared, and that when you are prepared personally, the right person will notice that, and be attracted to you as a potential marriage partner.
Everyone says to me, “don’t worry David, you’ll find the one”, and I’ll tell you, their words mean nothing. How on earth do they know that I’ll find “the one”? Are they a freaking fortune teller?
But God is a fortune teller, in a sense, and if it’s true that He’s declared marriage and family to be an essential part of His plan for all who follow His path for their life, then I guess I have to believe that divine decree has to supersede even the most horrendous loser when it comes to dating. But even if God has someone for me, I’ve already had to be single for 25 years, and I may have another 5 years, 10 years, or 500 years of singleness left to go.
Dealing with long term singleness is very difficult, and is going to be coupled with some sadness and emptiness no matter what- since we are created for love- and so it takes effort to be optimistic and constructive. That effort needs to be applied in getting out to meet and ask out potential marriage partners, in finding enjoyable and productive ways to spend your time, and in preparing both practically and spiritually for being a husband and father.