Contentment in Singleness

Contentment in Singleness

Is it Really Possible?

by Leslie Ludy | October 25, 2018

Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.
Psalm 34:5 (ESV)

For most modern women "singleness" and "contentment" are two words that don't seem to fit together in the same sentence. During our single years, it's all too easy to believe that marriage is the only thing that can solve our problems and make us truly happy.

Sadly our culture — even our Christian culture — often views singleness as a “problem to be solved” rather than an opportunity and gift from God. Well-meaning friends and family members can quickly make the situation worse by constantly asking if there is a “special someone” in your life or hinting that “so and so” might just be a perfect match for you.

To compound the issue, some modern Christian messages confidently declare that discontentment with singleness is normal and acceptable, and that we can’t expect to be truly fulfilled until we finally enter into marriage, because that is what we’ve been designed for.

And when God seems to delay bringing a husband along, the bait towards frustration and bitterness is palpable.  I have spoken with thousands of single women who have struggled with anger towards God and depression towards life in general because they have not yet met their spouse. They are completely unable to thrive in the single years of their lives, because they are convinced that their “real life” won’t begin until they are finally married.

Can you relate? Does finding true joy and contentment in your single years feel more like a myth than an actual possibility?

I have personally journeyed through the “joy and contentment” conundrum many times over in my life.  

Before Eric came into my life, God had walked me through a season when I’d learned to find true joy and contentment in my relationship with Him, even as a single girl, and I wasn’t pining after a husband for happiness.  I thought I had this whole contentment thing figured out.  

However, it was strange, but, once Eric and I became engaged, my hopes and expectations slowly became wrapped up in my dreams of what married life would be like — a cute little home with a white picket fence and a romantic dinner by candlelight every night.

I didn’t realize that I was placing so much hope in my own plans and dreams, until we moved into our first house — a charming 100-year-old bed and breakfast that some friends had graciously let us stay in for the winter.  The home was beautiful in the summer — on a sparkling lake with flowers and trees and swans.  But in the winter (when we lived there), the lake was frozen, the windows were boarded up, and the house seemed like the setting for an eerie movie.

It was hardly the setting for the Leave it to Beaver lifestyle I had envisioned.

The next four months in this “eerie” house were an adventure in the ridiculous which included a family of scary raccoons moving into our fireplace, an invasion of hungry fleas, a bronchial infection to beat all bronchial infections, water spraying everywhere in our laundry room due to busted pipes (leaving mountains of dirty clothes needing washed), and piles of discarded Kleenex that demanded too much energy to throw away.  

Marriage was great. My circumstances ... not so much.  

As overjoyed as I was to be married, I realized that marriage hadn’t solved all my problems or made my life perfect.  I believed I had every right to postpone my contentment until our outward situation improved and became more like the pleasant and comfortable plans I had created in my mind.

Then one morning I opened my Bible to the Psalms and read these words: “My soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him” (Ps. 62:5 NIV).  A poignant question resounded within my soul — where was I placing my hope? In my circumstances? Or in Christ alone?

While there was nothing wrong with the desire to have a lovely home and pleasant surroundings, I realized that there was something wrong with making my fulfillment conditional upon those things.  I committed myself afresh to God’s design for this season of my life even if it was different from my personal agenda.

Once my hope was anchored to Christ again, my contentment returned — fleas, raccoons, sub-zero temperatures, and all.  Eric and I learned to laugh at our ridiculous circumstances and cheerfully embrace the challenges that came with everyday life.  The result was that we drew even closer to each other, and grew tremendously in our relationship with Christ.  Looking back, I see God’s loving purpose in that cartoonish season, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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That trial of fleas and raccoons was nothing compared to some of the monstrous challenges that Eric and I have faced over the past twenty-plus years of marriage and ministry. Each time, God has used my challenges to remind me where my true hope and joy must always come from — Him alone.  If I’m placing my expectations in a specific set of circumstances, I’ll always be disappointed.  If my hope is in Him, I will always hold the secret of true contentment, even in a prison cell.

We so often want to blame God for delaying our dreams from coming true exactly when and how we want them to.  Yet this is nothing more than a tactic of the enemy to get our eyes off the Source of true happiness and distract us with selfish discontentment.  

When it comes to singleness, this temptation is especially strong.  

In her book Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “I’m afraid the snake has been talking to [many of us]. He’s been sneaking up and whispering, ‘God is stingy. He dangles that beautiful fruit called marriage before your eyes and won’t let you have it. He refuses you the only thing you need for deep personal growth, the one thing in all the world that would solve all your problems and make you really happy.’”

But, as Corrie ten Boom wisely observed, “We often set our minds on some one thing we think will make us happy — a husband, children, a particular job or even a ‘ministry’ — and refuse to open our eyes to God’s better way.  In fact, some believe so strongly that only this thing can bring happiness, that they reject the Lord Jesus Himself.  Happiness is not found in marriage, or work, or ministry or children.  Happiness is found only by being secure in Jesus.”

If you have struggled with frustration over your singleness, be encouraged that contentment and joy in this season of your life is possible — but only when you become secure in Jesus.  

Let’s take a deeper look at God’s pattern for true contentment. 

The Secret of Being Content

Throughout Christian history, God’s most faithful and fruitful believers have been those who gladly surrendered everything to Him, finding unshakable joy even in the midst of the most harrowing trials because their soul was anchored to Him.  They didn’t demand a specific set of circumstances in order to be happy and fulfilled.  They, like Paul, learned the “secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12 NIV).

How can we be counted among them?  By walking the same path; by choosing the same joyful surrender; by finding our contentment in Him alone, no matter what our circumstances may be.  Paul learned contentment, “Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:12 NIV). But the list could easily continue:  “Whether popular or lonely, whether noticed or overlooked, whether married or single…”

Uh-oh, hold on, you might be thinking.  It’s one thing for the Apostle Paul to be joyfully content whether well-fed or hungry, or for a married woman to learn contentment amid fleas and raccoons, but it’s impossible for a single woman to be joyfully content in her singleness.  There are even Christian books that say that being frustrated with singleness is perfectly normal!

But falling into the mentality that “singleness equals discontentment” will quickly lead to a miserable life.

In her book Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom wrote about a conversation that she had with a middle-aged single missionary who had those exact sentiments. 

“One evening while we were alone in her little [home] she confessed her bitterness and resentment over being unmarried. ‘Why have I been denied the love of a husband, children, and a home? Why is it that the only men who ever paid any attention to me were married to someone else?’ Long into the night she poured out her poison of frustration … I looked across the little table at the bitter woman in front of me.  Her face was furrowed, her eyes hard with resentment.  I sensed she was trying to run away from her frustrations.”

One of the reasons that being content in the single years often feels so impossible is because marriage is clearly a good gift from God, and the desire for marriage is something He created within us.  It’s easy to buy into the notion that something so right and God-ordained couldn’t possibly become a stumbling block of idolatry.

And yet, just as food is also a good and healthy gift from God — Paul had to learn to be content without it. And just as family bonds are a blessing from God, Jesus asked some of his disciples to follow Him without even stopping to tell their families goodbye. (See Luke 9:61-62.)

Surrender isn’t just about giving up the selfish, immoral vices in our lives, but also a willingness to lay down the good and perfect gifts that come from God, such as the desire for marriage, friends, family, and so on.  Surrendering those good gifts doesn’t mean we will never have them, or that the desire for them is wrong.  Rather, it means yielding them to God to do with as He sees fit, without demanding them as our right or making our happiness conditional upon them.

Elisabeth Elliot explained it this way.  “A good and perfect gift, these natural desires.  But so much more the necessity that they be restrained, controlled, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God.”

Corrie ten Boom contrasted the bitter missionary’s story to the beautiful example she’d seen in her traveling assistant, Ellen, who was a single young woman in her thirties.  “She is single, yet she has learned the secret of living a balanced life … she did not feel that God had called her to a single life, rather she felt that one day, in God’s time, she would marry.  However, until that time arrived — one year or thirty years from then — I knew she was secure in Jesus and not looking to a husband or children for security.”

Yes, I know that some modern Christian books have mocked the idea that a single woman can be joyfully content during the single years of her life, saying that a woman who says she is at peace with her unmarried state is not really being honest.  Other books say that Christians who look to Christ alone to fulfill them are merely trying to over-spiritualize their singleness.

But I don’t believe for a moment that seeking security in Christ alone is over-spiritualizing singleness.  Rather, it’s applying the Gospel to singleness.  

The Bible says that God — not marriage or any other circumstance — satisfies the longing soul. (See Psalm 107:9.)   Do we really believe that?  Are we willing to see that reality proven true in our lives, even during the single years?

God has given me the privilege of knowing many single women who are walking out this season of their lives with joyful, radiant security in Christ, just as Corrie described Ellen.  And it is truly a beautiful thing to behold. 

He is Enough

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the Chinese pastor that was thrown into solitary confinement for over a year because of his faith.  Day after day, week after week, month after month he crouched in a tiny cell hardly big enough to stand up in.  He remained there in total darkness. There was no light, no human companionship, and no human conversation. It was just him and God.

When he was finally released, he had nearly gone blind from the long lack of light.  His body was weak and fragile.  But his face was radiant and glowing. He seemed to effervesce with joy and peace. His Christian friends peppered him with questions. “How did you survive solitary confinement for so long?  What was it like?”

The frail pastor paused and then smiled.  “It was like a honeymoon with Jesus!”

What an incredible statement!  Here was a man who had gone over a year without any kind of human contact — and he’d never known such peace and fulfillment.  He was more than satisfied by sweet fellowship with his Beloved.

He understood that Jesus truly was all he needed.  Jesus became, in reality, his All in all.  And he didn’t just survive those difficult months — he triumphed through them!

If it’s possible for a man in this situation to be perfectly satisfied with Christ only, then it is certainly possible for us.  

Yes, it’s true that God designed us for relationship with others. It’s true that for most of us, He designed us for marriage. But it is not true that He alone isn’t enough to fulfill us at the deepest level, even if every form of human companionship is stripped away.

Marriage was not designed to make up for what God lacked.  It was not that God was unable to meet the longings of Adam’s heart, so He had to create Eve.  Rather, He created marriage to be a reflection of the perfect union and fellowship that we have with Him.  The entire Bible is a love story — a romance between Jesus Christ and His Bride. Our earthly marriages are meant to showcase the ultimate marriage that we will one day share with Him. But even if we never experience earthly marriage, we can be completely fulfilled by our relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Now, please don’t misunderstand me.  In saying that Christ wants to be our All in all and that we are not to look to marriage to meet needs only He can fill, I’m certainly not trying to downplay the sacredness or significance of getting married. But the principle of finding our fulfillment first and foremost in Christ is crucial, even for those of us who are called to be married one day.  

Here’s why. The Bible makes it clear that married women are to be helpers to their husbands — to honor them, respect them, serve them, and help meet their needs. Unfortunately, many married women are so busy trying to somehow make their husbands into the picture-perfect men of their childhood fairy tales that they don’t spend much time thinking about how they can selflessly love and serve their man.  

But a woman who is fully satisfied in Christ is free to selflessly love and serve her husband with unconditional love. This kind of woman will have far more ability to help shape her husband into a Christlike prince than a nagging, self-focused, emotionally needy wife ever could.

Don’t fall prey to the lie that Jesus Christ is not enough to fulfill the longings of your heart.  The most satisfying, spectacular divine romance with Jesus awaits us if we simply allow Him to be everything to us. 

What About Attraction?

One of the biggest challenges in the single years is knowing what to do with natural feelings of attraction. Just because you choose to seek fulfillment in Christ rather than pursuing an earthly love story doesn’t mean you’ll lose your desire to be married.  And when godly men come your way, it’s natural that you will be drawn to some of them.  This doesn’t mean that you’ve lost your contentment in Christ.  It just means you are a woman, feeling the intrinsic desire for love and companionship that God placed in your heart.  Feelings and emotions don’t dictate or lessen your commitment to Christ, unless you allow those feelings and emotions to take over and control you, or distract you from your First Love.

A godly, single young woman shared with me how she applies this truth to her own life:  “If I see a guy that meets the spiritual standards of integrity that I look for, I tell God about him, not the guy himself, and often times, not even my friends! I don’t allow my mind to daydream about guys in my life or to build castles in the sky over someone that I think might be ‘the one.’  I surrender my emotions and trust God to fulfill His purposes for me. Sometimes this can be pretty hard, but that’s where the promises of Scripture have made a huge difference and where movies have been a huge detriment! As the verse goes, ‘I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved’ (Ps. 16:8).”

This is a beautiful illustration of having the desire to be married, yet not allowing that desire to have you!

The Joy Set Before Us

If you are single, it may seem like waiting for marriage is the most difficult thing that you will ever have to walk through.  Yes, godly marriage is a wonderful blessing.  But I can tell you that even after marriage, and even after children, there are difficult seasons and trials we must experience as children of God. There are always new areas to surrender, always new hopes and dreams to lay at Jesus’ feet, and always new trials to patiently endure.

And yet we must never forget that on the other side of sacrifice and surrender, there is always joy.  Jesus obtained the reward of His suffering after He had conquered sin and death, and sat down at the right hand of His Father.  That’s His pattern.  First, suffering — then reward.  As 1 Peter 5:10 says, “may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (emphasis added).  And Paul reminds us, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love…”  (Heb. 6:10).  When we lay our all on the altar, no matter how painful the process is, we can be confident that there are unspeakable treasures of joy awaiting us on the other side of the suffering, the waiting, and the surrender.  

Modern messages tell us that accepting singleness as a gift only causes resentment and misery.  But nothing we embrace in obedience to Jesus Christ ever ends in misery and death.  That wasn’t Jesus’ story and it won’t be our story when we follow in His steps.  God specializes in “happily ever after.”  

Christian single young women today are often surrounded by messages that encourage them to follow their hearts, take matters into their own hands, and find themselves a husband as quickly as possible.  If that is your situation, I would strongly encourage you to tune out those noisy voices and lean upon the strength of God to walk a different path — His path.  Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The Cross seemed too much to bear.  But He received everything He needed by running into the arms of His Father and crying out for supernatural strength.

He will do the same for you.  All you must to do is ask.

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

…Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

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Awaken to God's amazing plan for the single season of your life!  Take this message further by reading Leslie's book, Sacred Singleness.