January 16, 2010

The Gift of Marriedness?

We've all been there. You get a gift and you have to try to act like you like it, even though you're really wondering what the heck the person who chose it was thinking. You can't imagine what made them look at this atrocity and think of you. The only other explanation is that it wasn't chosen for you at all; it was just something that was re-gifted to you.

Either way, it's not remotely flattering.

There was an anonymous comment to my last post about how hard it is to feel flattered when people say, "You must have the gift of singleness." My response was that I suspect there are more married than single who believe there is such thing as a gift of singleness.

A few years ago, a coworker turned 40, and she was having a hard time dealing with the fact she was still single. We had lunch for her, and another coworker - a mother of 6 - began to lecture the guest of honor about the gift of singleness. I was at the other end of the table and couldn't hear much of the conversation (if you could even call it a conversation) but I saw the look on the birthday girl's face. Her expression spoke volumes - and the more pained her expression, the more enthused Mother of 6 was about driving her point home.

Really, can you imagine suggesting that there is a gift of marriedness? I know people who have been married multiple times, so clearly they don't have anything you could call a gift of singleness, but I wouldn't say they have a gift of marriedness either. I wouldn't even suggest such a thing to friends who have been married their entire adult lives.

I understand where the idea comes from. It's from 1 Corinthians 7, one of Paul's more rambling passages. One time I heard a pastor say that Paul had a tendency to chase rabbits because while there are many passages where Paul writes eloquently and to the point, there are other passages where it's more a stream of consciousness. I Corinthians 7 strikes me as a stream of consciousness.

Don't get me wrong. The words he wrote in this passage are absolutely true and have given me comfort in my own life, but parts of it leave me scratching my head. Verse 7, the verse that gives us the idea that there is a gift of singleness, is one of those parts we still can't make up our minds about. "I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that."

For crying out loud, could the man have stayed on point long enough to explain what he meant?

Is he talking about a spiritual gift? Like lots of other people, I've gone back and forth about the answer to that question for years. At this point in my life, I don't think he is.

Whether married or single, I believe our lives are a gift from God. In that sense, yes, singleness is a gift, as is marriage. Whether married or single, we learn over time how to adapt to the life God has for us. If you're married, you learn how to live with your spouse, and if you're single, you learn how to live alone. Many will learn how to do both in their lives. Whatever the case, as we learn to adapt to that life which God has for us, as followers of Christ, we learn how to be more like Him, because that is the ultimate goal God has for all of us.

So take the advice of Anonymous. Compliment her on her shoes or her hair. But please, don't tell her she has the gift of singleness.



  1. Very, very well put! A few years back, there were some Christian self-help writers who propogated the "GoS", thinking it would help singles feel "special". Astoundingly enough, many actually bought into this false flattery, and so it keeps getting passed on, like a bad white elephant gift!

    The GoS comes from a mistranslation of the Living Bible (now the NLT), which has since been corrected. Paul never meant to say that singleness or marriage are "gifts", but that since we've all been gifted (ie. abilities such as sexual self-control, ministerial aspirations) differently by God (verse 7), it's up to the individual to choose singleness or marriage (verses 8-9).

    Even if all happens under God's sovereignty, not all that happens (or doesn't happen) is a gift. If you look up the word "gift" in the a concordance, it always applies to things that are at face value, a gift. For the poor birthday girl being regaled by that mother of six, singleness is definitely not a gift -- it's a source of grief and loss, because she's probably thinking she'll never have children (and she's probably right). A circumstance the scriptures always speak of with compassion, never patronizing or spinning it into a "gift".

    In Matthew 19, Christ was matter of fact about "some are born eunuchs...some are made that way by men", not putting a pollyanna spin on their circumstance or pinning it on God. But he did describe those who "make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom" as gifted.

    I think we should be take his example and be similarly matter of fact about singleness and marriage. There are some gifted people who can choose it voluntarily for kingdom purposes, but let no one presume that the circumstantially single should be either flattered or pitied.

  2. Wow, who was that masked man/woman? Great comment...thanks for posting!

  3. Hi, Margaret! Just found your great blog!
    I believe Paul was talking about the spiritual gift of celibacy, not the "gift" of singleness... I understand the gift of celibacy to be God's spiritual gift which enables a person that He has called/intended to remain single all his/her life, to be fulfilled in that life without the gift of a spouse, and to control his/her sexual urges and channel that energy into non-sexual Kingdom endeavors. I believe someone (like Paul seems to be) who has the true gift of celibacy would never be happy or fulfilled in marriage, either, and doesn't constantly pine for marriage!
    Those of us who are still single in middle age, still waiting/pining for marriage, and who DON'T have the "gift of celibacy", are still obviously responsible to cooperate with God's grace and remain celibate until our wedding nights. As a never-married 56 year old woman who has been breathlessly looking forward to and waiting for her wedding and her husband since age 5, I try to look at my current singleness as God's gift of saving me for the right man, in God's perfect timing. Something a counselor told me almost 20 years ago has also helped me greatly: "God is acting as your Chaperone, keeping you from getting involved with the wrong men until His chosen man for you arrives." May He bless your wait! Shalom...

    1. @ Jubilee. I respectfully disagree with you.

      The term "gift of celibacy" is just as mis-used and misunderstood as is the phrase and concept "gift of singleness."

      Whether a person remains single or celibate is presented in the Scriptures as personal choice.

      Neither status is ever presented as God choosing in eternity past who would be celibate/ single/ married. But too many Christians interpret GOS/GOC to mean just that.

      Too many Chrisitans (the married ones and even a few older celibates) keep running around assuming that God chose in eternity past who would stay single forever vs who would get married, and that God grants super powers to celibates, such as removing their desire for sex or marriage, or decreases their libido, when such is not the case for all celibates.

      I am in my 40s and still a virgin because I have never married, I very much would like to be married. I never wanted to be single this long.

      God did not remove my desire for sex or marriage. God did not give me some super power that decreases or removes sexual desire.

      I still get randy and would love to have sex. It is only sheer will power alone that has kept me celibate, plus wanting to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, and that sort of thing.

      But by this time in life, I have seen so many testimonies by Christians who admit to have slept around tons in their 20s, and yet not paid any negative consequences for it (they did not get preggers or get STDs), I no longer see the point in staying a virgin.

      And goodness knows when most churches are not flat out ignoring us older singles, they are treating us like freaks, failures, or trash.

      I have a blog called 'Christian pundit' (not to be confused with another blog called "THE Christian pundit") where I discuss this stuff more, so I shall not go on and on about it here.

  4. "God is acting as your Chaperone, keeping you from getting involved with the wrong men until His chosen man for you arrives."

    Words of wisdom, Jubilee! Thanks!