Singleness was for me the best and worst of times. Single all through my twenties, I took full advantage of the freedoms it offered: living in multiple locations, pursuing graduate degrees, cultivating deep friendships, becoming very involved at the churches I attended, and enjoying great adventures on multiple continents.
But singleness was also tough. There were seasons of terrible loneliness when I wondered if God would ever give me a lifelong companion. At times I was like a severed powerline, the voltage of unfulfilled longing causing me to thrash about in ways that hurt others. I was sometimes jealous of married friends. I did not always navigate singleness with grace, poise, deep faith, and steadfast joy. Instead, I blundered between enjoyment and regret, happiness and longing, purity and sin.
I wish someone had helped me understand, and then live, my singleness in the light of eternity. I think it would have helped me enormously to enjoy a godlier, more productive, more satisfied life during those years.
Eternity Changes Everything!!
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
Eternity changes everything, including our singleness. By ‘eternity’ I mean the future new creation God describes in the Bible. This is a future beyond our wildest imaginings and most fervent hopes.
It’s this present world renewed, restored, and remade into a perfect place with no more sin, suffering, brokenness, tears, pain, or death. The new creation will be far better even than the original Eden, because:
- Jesus will be physically present there (Revelation 22.1)
- It will last forever, with its inhabitants (unlike Adam and Eve) never falling into sin.
In other words, the world’s perfect future will be better than its perfect past. Eden was lovely fragility. The new creation will be gorgeous stability. Eden was like an exquisite china bowl – beautiful but breakable. The new creation will be like the Alps – breathtaking and immovable.
Will everyone experience such a future?
But this perfect future is not necessarily our future. The only way for imperfect people living in an imperfect world to reach a perfect new creation is to be united to a perfect Savior. Through faith in Jesus and repentance of our sin, we can be completely assured that this future is ours. This is because Jesus suffered for our sin on the cross so we could be forgiven and adopted as a child of God. In the Bible, that firm assurance of our eternal future is simply called ‘hope.’ Christian hope is the confidence that an amazingly good future is securely ours. Christian hope in God’s future new creation radically changes our present.
How can hope of eternity change us now?
I’ll highlight here two ways Christian hope changes us right now, strengthening and equipping us in any life situation, including singleness.
- First, hope heightens our restlessness for the new creation, and our restlessness makes us more content in the present.
- Second, it lengthens our patience for the new creation, and that patience strengthens a secure identity.
The rest of this article will seek to explain these two points.
Step 1: Let your eternal hope help you grow more RESTLESS to forever be with Christ. You’ll become more content in your singleness.
One of the feelings I often experienced as a single person was lack of contentment. Even some of my most enjoyable adventures and sweetest experiences were shot through with a longing to share them with someone else.
A deep longing for eternity can help us with our discontentment by:
- Increasing our feeling of restlessness on this earth.
That may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not. The Apostle Paul was a tremendously restless person, one who said he strained forward and yearned for God’s final future (Philippians 3). And yet he also said that he had learned the secret of contentment in any circumstance (Philippians 4). These two things are in fact intimately related. Let me explain:
The reason we grow discontented with our singleness, or our job, or marriage, or car, or children, or with anything else, is because that person or thing (whatever it is) looks so big and eternity looks so small. If you hold a coin close enough to your face, it will obscure an entire city skyline. Obviously, the city is bigger than the coin! But it doesn’t look that way to you, because the coin is closer.
When our present circumstances look bigger than eternity, we have lost perspective. When we lose perspective, we tend to load too much of our contentment onto something never designed to bear the weight. We look to a spouse, a vacation, or an accomplishment to give us the happiness they never can.
The problem with this way of living is that it leads to perpetual discontentment…
- If God gives us a better job but we’re still seeing our job as bigger, more important, and more meaningful than the new creation, we’ll either sacrifice everything to excel at it, or be destroyed if we lose it.
- If we’re single and all we can see is our longing for a spouse rather than eternity with Christ, we’ll load down a God-sent spouse with the crushing weight of needy expectation. A discontented single person will become a discontented spouse and then a discontented parent. If God does not bring us a spouse we will become a resentful, cynical or broken-hearted single.
…until eternity breaks in and moves to the centre!
God is way more concerned with a change in our perspective than a change in our marital status. If eternity is at the center, and a husband or wife or child fails us – or if we don’t have the husband, wife, or children we’re longing for – it will be painful but we’ll be okay, because we know a perfect eternity with Christ is still ours. Our boat is weighed down, and it will hold us steady through the disappointments, missed opportunities, and tragedies of this life.
The more restless we are for the new creation – the more our thoughts and emotions are captivated by it – the less we’ll be shaken by disappointment in this life and the more we’ll see every present blessing not as a final destination but as a signpost pointing toward eternity. The more restless we become, the more contented we are.
Step 2: Let your eternal hope help you grow more PATIENT as you wait to forever be with Christ. You’ll become more secure in your singleness.
Christian hope in eternity doesn’t just heighten restlessness, it also lengthens patience. The people most patient for God’s future new creation are those most confident that God will certainly bring it. Think about it: if you know Christmas dinner will soon be spread on the table, you’ll be much less tempted to snack on junk food now. You can wait, because you know it will be great.
I know plenty of Christian singles who have got impatient waiting for a husband/wife and ended up ‘snacking’ through trying to seize and secure their own happiness by:
- Pursuing a relationship with a non-Christian.
- Or by having sex before marriage.
When trying to seize happiness now entails disobedience to God rather than patient trust in his promises, it sets us on a path away from God. Staying on that path means losing eternal happiness as we try to snatch it all now, ahead of time. A strong future hope helps us wait for the ‘real meal’…perhaps for a Christian spouse (if God wills it), and most certainly for the far greater joy of eternity with Christ. Those who are patiently waiting for that surpassingly good future are secure in their present.
Singleness can lead some people to insecurity. It did for me. As my friends were getting married throughout my twenties, I sometimes wondered what was going on. Was there something wrong with me? I didn’t even have a girlfriend. Had I not been given some secret instructions that everyone else had received? (Was there a handshake? A password? A secret code?) When I was the only single person in the group going to the show, or the movie, or to church, I felt uncomfortable and awkward. What I lacked during that time was a strong Christian hope in my certain eternity.
Strong eternal hope assures us that the new creation is coming even though we know it’s not here yet. Because it’s certainly coming:
- We can wait for it patiently.
- It’s real to us even though it’s still in the future.
And because it’s real, it helps us have a secure identity in the present.
Perhaps if you’re a single person, your identity as a ‘single’ has moved to the centre of how you think about yourself. But it appears from Jesus’ teaching that in eternity we will all be single. There won’t be marriage in the new creation. What will define us forever will be not our marital status but our enjoyment of the perfect presence of Christ. We’ll know Jesus forever and be loved by him for eternity. This is way more central to our identity than our marital status. Don’t think of yourself as unwanted by any prospective spouses. Know yourself as loved for all eternity by Jesus.
Christian hope in eternity changes our view of our singleness. The more hope we have in eternity, the more patient we become in the here-and-now as we wait for eternity. The more patient we become, the more secure we become as a single person.
The more we cultivate a strong Christian hope in our future eternity with Christ, the more RESTLESS for eternity we become and the more PATIENT we become living here and now.
- The more restless for eternity we become, the more contented we become in our singleness.
- The more patient we become as we wait for eternity, the more secure we become in our singleness.
Singles: deepen hope, heighten restlessness, lengthen patience.
I wish someone had taught me twenty years ago to cultivate a stronger Christian hope in the future new creation. It’s not rocket science. Every Christian can do it. It involves, among other things:
- Meditating on and memorising Bible passages that point us to this future (e.g. Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22)
- Reading books such as Randy Alcorn’s Heaven that sharpen our thinking, whet our appetites, and cultivate our emotions
- Having our eyes open to seeing the weaknesses and broken areas of this world that remind us of our need for a better one
- Being deeply involved in Christian community, and pursuing relationships with other Christians who are leaning eagerly toward God’s promised future
We’re all pilgrims on this earth, looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose maker and builder is God (Hebrews 11.10). [Stephen Witmer]
Stephen Witmer is the author of our book of the month (April 2014) Eternity Changes Everything: How to live now in the light of your future (Good Book Company). He is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, MA and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Follow him on Twitter: @stephenwitmer1.