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I’ve always been slightly envious of people who had a Christian upbringing and who’ve known the Lord from a young age. Having undergone a false conversion in my teenage years, I considered myself a Christian for a while – albeit one who never went to Church or picked up her Bible, much less bore any fruit for the Lord. Even that fell by the wayside in my twenties, and I spent many years in a state of rebellion against God, not coming to true repentance until I was almost thirty years old. That means that, like most people who become Christians as adults, I have a past. It also means I’m very familiar with the pain and shame that come with being a divorced Catholic.
My ex-husband is not a man of God and my marriage was abusive in pretty much every way you can imagine. However, even secular marriages are considered sacramentally valid by the Church unless they can be proven otherwise. This means that, as it stands, remarriage is not something I can even consider at present. Since the whole point of Christian dating is for both parties to discern whether God is calling them into covenant with another person, that’s currently off the table as well.
If you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, you’re likely feeling confused and hurt. When other Christians are getting married and raising families, it’s tempting to feel like you’ve been short-changed and wonder if you’ll ever experience true happiness again. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. In the time I’ve known the Lord, he has shown me that the single life, while challenging at times, brings a whole set of gifts and blessings which our married brothers and sisters may not experience. So whether you’re divorced, widowed, or just haven’t found that special someone, my hope is that this article will help you to see your situation in a new, more positive light.
Someday my Prince will come
Lest anyone should think I’m trying to denigrate the sacrament of marriage, I want to start by affirming that marriage and romantic love are wonderful gifts from God. The vocation to marriage is a truly admirable one, and those called to it have an opportunity to participate in a living symbol of Christ’s love for the Church. Not everyone is called to experience this, however, and as Christians we need to be careful not to desire the gift more than the Giver. We should take Our Lord’s words seriously: ‘“If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple”’ (Luke 15: 26). Jesus must sit on the throne of our lives.
Unfortunately, we live in a society which makes an idol out of romantic love and in which weddings form a multi billion-pound industry (people in the UK spend £10 billion every year on getting married). To make matters worse, long-term singleness is caricatured in secular culture (Bridget Jones, anyone?) and often treated as a temporary affliction, which well-meaning family and friends might try to cure. All of this can leave the single Christian feeling as though they’re somehow less-than and wondering if they’re missing out.
I think part of the reason many of us find the idea of singleness unsettling is due to a very human concern: we’re afraid of being alone. And rightly so, since all human beings are relational and need meaningful connections with others in order to lead healthy, balanced lives. Biology now confirms what Scripture has been teaching for thousands of years: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2: 18).
However, what we need to remember is that singleness doesn’t mean no fellowship with others. In fact, it may free us up to engage with others in ways we couldn’t if we were married and focused on raising children, homemaking and home-schooling. Crucially, though, singleness, whether temporary or lifelong, frees us up to serve God with our entire being, pouring out our lives for him the way the great saints of the past did, free to follow wherever he might lead us. If you’ve been raised to view marriage as the be-all and end-all, it may surprise you to hear what St. Paul had to say on the subject. It’s discussed at length in 1 Corinthians 7:
There is something I want to add for the sake of widows and those who are not married: it is a good thing for them to stay as they are, like me […] I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit […] the man who sees that his daughter is married has done a good thing but the man who keeps his daughter unmarried has done something even better. (1 Corinthians 7: 8; 32-34; 38)
Why we’re all here
St. Paul understood a great mystery of the Christian faith: that of the Church’s spiritual espousal to Christ, which is the reason Jesus taught that nobody would be married in the resurrection (Matthew 22: 30). This is a truth which all Christians need to stand on whether they have an earthly spouse or not: ‘You see, the jealousy that I feel for you is God’s own jealousy: I arranged for you to marry Christ so that I might give you away as a chaste virgin to this one husband’ (2 Corinthians 11: 2). Marriage in this life might be a wonderful gift and a foretaste of things to come, but ultimately, it’s not the reason we’re here.
This also means that the single Christian need not worry about whether or not they will ever experience the joy of falling, living and staying in love. The Bible is full of tender passages which show just how close God desires to be with us, even in this life while we are still waiting for Him. The book of Hosea reveals God as broken-hearted by Israel’s infidelity, but nevertheless looking forward to the intimacy he will have with his people under the New Covenant: ‘I will betroth you to myself for ever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love; I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness, and you will come to know the LORD’ (Hosea 2: 21-22).
So while the single Christian might have to live without sex (it doesn’t kill you – promise!) he or she certainly doesn’t have to miss out on romance. In fact, single and married Christians alike are called to participate in the ultimate romance, and there really is no love sweeter than that of the Most High.
Not my will but yours
The final thing to bear in mind is that God is the giver of every good gift, but we aren’t entitled to those gifts. They are privileges, not rights. God may choose to bless you with a Christ-centred marriage and a holy brood, complete with people carrier. Alternatively, he may wish to keep you for himself, using you to bring his healing love to others in ways you might not have otherwise been able to. Ultimately, we need to exercise discernment and pray that God will bring our will into alignment with his own. Doing so is the secret to lasting joy, regardless of our temporary, worldly circumstances. Don’t believe the lie that you can never be happy without an earthly spouse. The truth is that, whether married, single or divorced, true happiness will always evade us until we learn to embrace Christ as our one and only Treasure.