Editor’s Note:

The purpose of this series is to help singles think through how to be single in the church, those who are married but don’t have kids to continue to pursue each other and those who are married to excel at parenting by the grace of God.

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We sat across the table to eat and chat. We hadn’t got together in a few months. My wife and his talked about designing their homes, what’s new with the kids, and several other topics that interested them both. He and I talked about the kids, our respective churches, what we’re reading, and home repair projects. We enjoy fellowshipping with these friends. There’s very few simple pleasures like meeting friends for good eats and conversation. I agree with Tolkien, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

For onlookers, the four of us sitting at the table might have looked like haggard travelers. You might have seen dark rings under some eyes, slouched posture, and weary countenances. You see being married and having kids is exhausting. I rarely finish a week where I don’t feel spent.

I’ve heard several married folk say something like, “Oh I wish I could be single again, so I could do whatever I want.” Or “Enjoy being single with no responsibility.” Or even worse to young married couple, “Enjoy the time before you have children”—as if you can’t enjoy the time after. We’ve idealized being single. Single people work. Feel spent. Have responsibilities. Enjoy fellowship.

On the other hand, a few months back I met for lunch with a friend who is single. We talked about work and his latest outdoor adventure. We also talked about our activity within the church. I encouraged him to use his gifting to serve the church and not just consume. He encouraged me to not be discouraged with this busy season of life, but keep pursuing the good of the Church with my gifting. It was a great time of fellowship. He looked weary and rugged. This guy puts serious time into work and serves the Church and finds time to beat the wooded trails.

He didn’t say it, but I’ve heard from several singles, “I wish I was married. Life would be so complicated.” Or from a guy I used to disciple, “Once I get married I feel like sexual temptation won’t be such a problem” (married men no laughing). Once or twice, “Once I’m married and have kids, I’ll start spending time with kids and not be so selfish with my time” (in the context of serving the church’s children). We’ve idealized marriage in some ways. Married people have complicated lives. We struggle with sexual sin. Marriage is arduous work.

It’s so easy in one season to idealize your former season or the season you wish you were in. The point is that both seasons—singleness and marriage—provide unique opportunities and challenges. One shouldn’t be envied over the other. In some ways, the church should be at fault for this season envy. We often haven’t provided robust answers to the questions singles have. We also have not provided rich community where singles and married folk can gather together, fellowship, serve each other, and disciple each other.

And in some ways, our discipleship has been pointed at the head, about filling up our brains with biblical knowledge, but we haven’t aimed our discipleship at the heart of either group. We haven’t taught singles that sexual sin is only defeated by understanding our identity in Christ and by loving him more than temporary fulfillment. For married couples, we’ve failed to understand exactly what the marriage covenant is. We’ve created marriage consumers instead of disciple-multipliers of gospel culture in our homes. A re-orientation of our discipleship would shift our focus from the season to envy to the person and work of Jesus Christ and the seat of our affections—our hearts.

We do not envy our single friends because their life is so much better or so much easier—but because we’re not satisfied with Jesus. Singles aren’t envying their married friends because marriage makes life easy—but because we’re not satisfied with Jesus. If you feed season envy, you will carry that season envy into your next season of life regardless if it’s marriage, loss, grief, or moving.

Jesus is better than marriage and singleness. We must understand that, and not just intellectually, but with all our hearts. When that season of loneliness arrives in singleness or in marriage, we do not throw our hopes on another person, real or fictional. We are grounded in the goodness and love of the Father for us. We are free to pray and lament, yet firmly hold onto the covenant promises of God.