Recently I got a chance to listen in on the heartfelt expressions of some of my single friends–Christian ladies who love the Lord and are striving to please Him in every area of life. They clarified misconceptions about singleness, shared their personal experiences of both joys and frustrations, and offered sound, biblical advice for all of us to heed.
When I heard what my sisters had to say, I felt burdened by their pain, and I remembered how I had endured similar trials during my 26 years of singleness. I decided to write out some reminders to myself and all of us married-folk, so that we can be careful to make sure our words and actions are loving, helpful, and edifying.
Here we go:
1. DON’T: Shrug off your single friend’s struggle with a quick, “Just be content” or “Stop worrying about it so much”
DO: Truly listen and offer biblical truth
To be honest, I can’t think of a time when pithy platitudes are a good part of any meaningful conversation. When someone opens up her heart to us, it’s best we try not to respond with a curt, know-it-all statement, as though the solution were simple and obvious.
If that were the way that God dealt with us, I’m pretty sure the Bible would be half the size that it is.
The Lord speaks to us in a tender way, through stories, parables, illustrations, poetry, and many more forms. He isn’t impatient, in a rush to “get to the point” so He can go do more important things with His time.
So let’s try our best not treat one another that way, either. When a sister is having a hard time with her singleness, the last thing we should do is skip over the listening part and assume we already know the ins and outs of her experience. Instead, let’s listen, reach out with compassion, and then encourage her with Scripture by spending time with her in a passage or sharing how the Lord helped us with a similar difficulty.
We should also acknowledge that it’s okay to not want to be single! Telling her to “just stop thinking about it” is treating marriage as something inconsequential. Her desire to be married and have a family is normal, and doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s idolizing it–though she might be. But before we figure that out, we should first check our own hearts. Are we dealing with our own idolatry, as married women?
I’m not saying we should overlook sins; not at all. We need to help each other overcome them. But if we’re overly focused on the speck in our sister’s eye and forget the fact that we struggle with the same things, we may not approach her in a way that honors the Lord.
2. DON’T: Make assumptions or generalizations on how your sister must feel about singleness
DO: Show empathy that matches her personal experience
Okay, when I got to this topic, I couldn’t help but think of two famous pop stars, whose music I don’t really listen to: Adele and Beyonce. (Don’t consider this an endorsement of either one.)
Adele’s music, from what I know, frequently centers around failed relationships and how we deal with the pain we face in the aftermath. The song “Hello” comes to mind.
On the other hand, “Single Ladies” and other songs by Beyonce communicate that singleness is all about being a “free, independent” woman.
We can sometimes unwittingly lump our friends into one or the other category–either borderline depressed about being single, or liberated and happy.
As a result, we may prematurely dish out pity, viewing our friend as a cat lady without a social life… or make comments expressing how fun and freeing it must be to have so much extra time and “autonomy” over her own decisions.
Let’s avoid these stereotypes by treating our friend as an individual with her own unique experience. Again, this comes back to listening. Remember that since she’s a Christian, she’s not going to have the same mindset as the world on the topic of singleness, and neither should we. She may be content about her position in life, or she may be unhappy, or even somewhere in-between, depending on the week!
But isn’t that true for all of us?
3. DON’T: Overemphasize your friend’s “relationship status” or make her feel uncomfortable by constantly playing “match-maker”
DO: Develop a real friendship that is centered on Christ, not just marriage and family
If you want to make your friend feel very awkward and insecure, then go ahead and bring up her singleness every time she’s around. Or, invite her to join you on a double date without asking her or warning her beforehand. (Who to set her up with? Maybe that random single guy at church that you hardly know is a good choice.)
But if you want to love her in a way that glorifies God, then build a friendship around her identity in Christ, not the missing ring from her finger. Have conversations about all sorts of things, but especially heavenly truths. Spend time together. Ask her if she wants you to introduce her to someone (and tell her who it is!), but don’t press it or bring it up over and over. Marriage is an important part of life, but it’s not central. Jesus is.
4. DON’T: Tell your sister she’ll definitely get married someday, especially if she does A, B, or C
DO: Remind her of the unchanging promises of God in Scripture
None of us has the right to presume on God’s will. We’re not fortune-tellers, and the Bible is not a crystal ball. God has not “told you” that your friend will get married someday. Period. And telling her that is not only untruthful, but hurtful.
And don’t get me started on the worldly, superstitious A, B, and Cs some people prescribe to “make sure” you get married. A couple of the most popular ones: “Stop looking and he’ll show up when you least expect it,” or, “Just be godly and content, and God will send you a husband when you’re ready.” That last one actually sounds a lot like manipulating God to do our own bidding!
No, no, no. What’s important is that we obey what God has revealed: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
It could be that the Lord has planned for your friend to marry, but since the Word hasn’t disclosed that to be a fact, no one truly knows. And no one will know for sure until she walks down the aisle and makes the covenant with her husband before God.
Instead, let’s help one another focus on the immutable promises of God that are in His Word–that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that He will satisfy us with His love, that Christ is worthy of our worship, that when we seek Him, we’ll find Him… and many more.
5. DON’T: Try to comfort her by by speaking negatively about marriage or raising children
DO: Be an example of a godly–though imperfect!–woman, wife, and mother, saved by grace
When I was single, people sometimes tried to make me feel better by saying things like, “You don’t realize how hard it is to be married,” “Children are so demanding,” or “Enjoy being single, I sometimes wish I still was.” (Yikes!)
The Word tells us that “marriage is honorable among all” (Heb. 13:4)–meaning we should hold it in high esteem. The world may think marriage is nothing but a ball-and-chain, but as Christians, we know it’s a good gift from God that He gives to whom He wills.
We also know that “children are a blessing from the Lord” (Ps. 127:3)–regardless of how we feel about them at any particular moment.
Marriage and child-rearing are not easy, and they can be very difficult, but that doesn’t mean we should complain bitterly about them.
Plus, if your single friend is anything like me, she’ll interpret what you’re saying to mean, “Singleness is easy; your life is easy compared to mine. You’ve got nothing to complain about.” That’s neither true nor loving.
Instead, let’s be an example to our sisters of what it’s like to be a sinful, yet being-sanctified wife or mother. We want to show that it’s by grace alone that we’re saved, and that glorifying God in our daily lives is only possible because of that same grace. Life is hard for everyone, but for the Christian, all of our suffering is redemptive. That’s the good news!
6. DON’T: Purposefully exclude your friend from conversations or invitations to spend time with your family
DO: Include her, either by herself or with a group, whenever you’re able
Many single women in the church feel left out. Not just because there are generally marrieds than singles, but because they are sometimes overlooked by couples and families, for various reasons.
We may be tempted to think our friend isn’t interested or has “nothing to contribute” to conversations about our date nights, diaper-changing, or homeschooling.
Or, perhaps, by limiting our discussions to only these topics, we aren’t giving her the opportunity to chime in.
We should make an effort to include singles so that there is unity in the church and fellowship between all of us. We need each other! And not just that, we should enjoy one another’s company! If we’re afraid of creating an awkward “third wheel” situation, maybe we can invite our single friend over along with others, such as another single or a couple. But whatever we do, we must remember that every part of the Body is necessary–no exceptions. Let’s not amputate a “foot” or ignore a “hand.”
7. DON’T: Assume that she won’t want to hang out with you because your house is dirty and your kids are crazy
DO: Ask if she wants to come over to spend time with you, and even help!
I had the privilege of hanging out with several families during my years of singleness, and some of the most precious moments of my life (!) were spent helping moms with their children! I enjoyed it and learned so much.
Of course, I also valued one-on-one conversations with married women, but the children and busy-ness of their lives was not a burden to me. It was an opportunity to love and serve, at a time when it was hard to figure out how to serve in the church.
Ask your friend if she wants to come over, and don’t worry about the messiness of life. She knows all about it. (And it’s likely her place is just as messy.) Extend the invite confidently, because she won’t likely initiate it herself, and she may feel like she’s “intruding” if you seem to hesitate. Allow her to help you, and she’ll also gain valuable skills that she may need if she does get married someday!
8. DON’T: Wonder if there’s something wrong with your friend, or give her the impression that her womanhood is “incomplete”
DO: Reassure her that her godliness as a woman is not solely based on the roles she’s been given, but on the character she displays
We know much of the Bible focuses on how to be a godly wife and mother. It assumes that most women will marry and have their own families.
But that doesn’t mean that godliness equates to these roles.
A single lady is just as capable of displaying her femininity and godly womanhood as a wife and mom is. It may look different, but the characteristics are still the same: love, joy, peace, patience…. The fruit of the Spirit is not limited to wives and mothers.
And, we must remember that those roles in-and-of themselves do not make us more “womanly” or godly than our full-time working, single sisters.
To be a godly woman, we must be like Christ. We’re never more of the woman God intends for us to be than when we show the world His glory, no matter what season of life we’re in.
9. DON’T: Withhold expressing your own struggles to your friend because they might be different from hers
DO: Remember your similarities as Christian women, and share in each other’s burdens and joys
Married women know that loneliness, discontentment, fear, and heartache don’t disappear once you become one with your husband. Quite the contrary! Those experiences carry over into every stage of our lives. And as suffering, redeemed sinners in a broken world, we have much more in common than we realize.
There are some things that should be kept private between a husband and a wife, and within a household itself. But outside of those things, it’s healthy and edifying to open up to your single sister about both your trials and triumphs. It helps her know that you need her as much as she needs you. And it allows her to join in with you. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another” (Romans 12:15-16).
10. DON’T: Automatically assign yourself and your friend to permanent positions of “teacher” and “learner”
DO: Gain wisdom and encouragement from one another
If you are older (in age and in the faith), and more experienced than your single sister, it makes sense to occupy the role of “discipler.” After all, God’s Word commands that older women instruct the younger women in godliness (Titus 2:3-5).
But single women can also fill that role, if they are the “elder” in the relationship. Being married and having children are not pre-requisites to being the “discipler.”
We also know that wisdom goes both ways. Both Christian women in the friendship can learn and benefit from one another. We should confront one another’s sin, and that goes both ways, too–we married women must be able to take biblical correction from single women, even if she hasn’t “experienced” the same exact situation we’re in. And vice versa. We are first and foremost Christian women, and as Christians, we’re called to edify and build one another up, no matter what our “status” is.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
Even when it seems like a next-to-impossible task, let’s not give up on trying to develop these friendships! We are sinners, and we won’t love one another perfectly in this life. We won’t always say or do the right thing; we’ll hurt and be hurt. But we’ll also forgive, because Jesus has forgiven us of far worse. God has made us one Body together–single, married, with children or without children… we all belong to Christ. And that foundation alone is more than enough.