By Lydia Klingforth
The boyfriend was abusive. He beat her up badly enough, often enough, that her friends could see the bruises. Yet she dated him for seven years.
The girl’s friends were relieved at the end of that relationship. But her mother was disappointed. “Why did you break up with him?” she told her daughter. “Maybe you’ll never get another boyfriend! Will I be left with a single daughter?”
In February 2019, at the Navigators Kenya Women’s Conference, I led a workshop on marriage and singleness. One participant, a friend of that abused girlfriend, shared that testimony with us. The story still haunts me. Here in Nakuru, one of my teammates is discipling a middle-aged woman who is raising her young grandson. This woman’s daughter was killed by her husband in domestic violence.
When a mother believes that singleness is worse for her daughter than an abusive man, her perspective is skewed.
The Apostle Paul wrote extensively about singleness and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. In verse 7, he affirmed that both marriage and singleness are “gifts” from God. That chapter includes the Bible’s most practical (and blunt) marriage advice. For married believers, said Paul, sexual intimacy is vital. For single believers, a different gift has been given. “A woman who is no longer married or who has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband.” (1 Cor. 7:34, NLT).
As a wife and mother, I feel that tension—how much of my time is available for community work, for mentoring trainees, and for outreach to lost people? And how much of my time is needed by my husband and kids? By contrast, I observe that some single Navigators are “spiritual mothers” to many people, because God has allowed them to have a whole-hearted focus on spiritual generations.
Paul appreciated his own singleness, because being single gave him freedom to totally focus on sharing the Gospel (v. 32-33). If Paul had been a married man, he may not have been free to travel so extensively, nor to undergo so many risks. Paul thanked God for his singleness, declaring, “I wish everyone were single, just as I am, but each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.” (1 Cor. 7:7, NLT).
According to 1 Corinthians 7:7, both singleness and marriage are “gifts” from God. So, we should give married and single people equal honor. Because just as God has chosen our unique spiritual gifts, he has given us our marital status.
Unfortunately, both in society and in the church, single people are often disrespected. My teammate, Loice Kabaki, told me that when she was in her thirties, she was especially pressured because of her singleness. Multiple people, even some in the church, urged her, “Even if you don’t get a husband, why don’t you at least get a baby? Then you could be honored as ‘Mama So-and-So’.” Because parents of children are respected, this pressure on single women to “at least get a baby” is surprisingly widespread.
But that is not God’s way. Instead, God himself has given some of us the gift of marriage and others the gift of singleness. (And neither gift is necessarily for a lifetime). Paul’s beautiful poem about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 tells us God’s rationale for people receiving unique gifts.
“If the ear says, ‘I am not a part of the body because I am not an eye!’ Would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.” 1 Cor. 12:16-18, NLT
Clearly, God also made the single and married believers to need one another, just as deeply as a living body needs all its parts.
But how can married and single ministry colleagues be better inter-connected? Here are some ideas:
1) Married people, let’s be aware how thoughtless comments hurt our single colleagues.
Some preachers declare, “Don’t worry, singles! God has someone for each one of you!” That empty promise may be an attempt to encourage the crowd, but it rings hollow to single people. Likewise, it is thoughtless to assume that single people can do extra work because “they have the time.” Single people have responsibilities to friends and family members. And they need rest, too.
2) Married people, be willing to share your home.
Several of my Nakuru teammates testify that they were first attracted to Jesus by seeing a healthy, loving Christian family. Psalm 68:6 declares, “God places the lonely in families.” Many single people say that though their freedom is the greatest benefit of singleness, loneliness is the greatest hardship. So, when we invite our single friends into our homes, we help meet this need.
3) Married and single people, remember that kids need role models besides their parents.
This is a normal part of growing up. When my own kids are teenagers, will they turn only to their peers for insight? I hope that instead, they will seek wisdom from “aunties” and “uncles” within the Navigators family whom they already know and trust. Sometimes single people are especially used by God to guide our teenage kids.
4) Single people, no matter how much accidental (or intentional) disrespect you receive, never disrespect yourselves.
Like the ear in 1 Corinthians 12 that thought it was not really part of the body, some single people have come to believe, “I am not an important part of my church, because I am not married.” Remember who you are in Christ. When you feel down, reread Ephesians 1 and 2. You are chosen, hand-picked for adoption into the family of God (Eph. 1:5). God has given you his power, the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). And as Christ is now honored in heaven, so you are honored by his side (Eph. 2:6).
Last year, a friend gave me a “Mother of Millions” plant, which has given me an image of spiritually fruitful singleness. It is a succulent, a drought-resistant beauty. When well-watered, it grows incredibly fast. Many other plants need a male and female plant to produce fruit, but God has made the Mother of Millions unique. Each leaf grows baby plants, dozens of them at a time. They start as bumps, then look like green flower buds. But they are not flowers—they are complete plants. And when each “child” falls to the ground, it develops roots and grows to maturity.
What a picture of spiritual generations! As Navigators, whether married or single, we pray that God would use us as part of His extended family. We seek to raise Christ-followers to maturity, and to teach them, in turn, to raise up others. What an inspiring call! Whether married or single, in God’s cosmic plan each one of us could become a Mother (or a Father) of Millions.
Note: For further study, see The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero, chapter 3, “Lead Out of Your Marriage or Singleness.” He argues that each of us can only lead out of who we are. So married people lead others best by demonstrating a joyful, loving and healthy marriage. And single people can lead others by their example of a content and socially-interconnected single life, a healthy singleness.