Over the past few years, I have heard various pastors and speakers speak of the growing trend in young people to delay marriage and have children until their late twenties or early thirties. They speak with concern about the impact that this has on society and generally make it out to appear that these young people are being selfish in putting their own careers and life goals before having a family. There is even the argument that being married and having kids is not just a societal norm, but a biblical one, and a person delaying marriage may be going against God’s design.
Maybe there is some truth to this, especially among secular people (although if they don’t believe in God, it’s unlikely they will care that they are going against God’s design for families).
But all I hear when it strikes my single heart is the shaming message of, “You are the one contributing to the decline of families and societal order.”
And my cry in response is, “You think this was my choice? You think that I wanted to wait until my thirties to get married and have kids (if I ever do)?”
From my own experience in the church, I also see this response from most of my single friends. Very rarely do I run into an older single person who is confidently asserting, “I’m just building up my career right now. I’ll get married in a few years when I’m ready.” Now obviously I have a limited sphere, and I know that might be the case in larger cities, especially those on the coasts.
But I feel like the message sent in conservative churches is, “Get married young, for this is the will of God, and you shall be blessed.” And the young twenty-somethings do. And the older singles feel more and more ostracized as they don’t fit into the marriage- and family-centric circles – and when they hear messages like above, they feel even more wrongly-placed guilt for not being able to do the “Christian” thing of getting married.
This is why I wrote my book. Because messages like these, well-intentioned as they are, have long-lasting, damaging effects on single men and women who long to get married and to still find a place in the church if they’re not married.
So, is it selfish of these single people to “put off” marriage till later in their lives? First of all, using that language assumes it is always their choice, which it most often isn’t. But to fully challenge that question, here are three rebuttals (taken from various parts of my book):
- Christians need to embrace a deeper theology of singleness that views it as Christ does.
When we say that it is selfish of single people to delay marriage, we are in essence labeling singleness as bad and marriage/family good.
Yet in Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus said to his disciples, “‘Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.’”
The majority of young people will indeed get married. I don’t think there is any fear of stamping out marriage altogether in the church. The culture at large, maybe, but Christians will always embrace marriage as the gift of God that it is. What seems harder for many Christians to accept is that single seasons of life are blessings too, and they serve the church in great ways. Single Christians are not rejecting the idea of marriage – rather they are living fully into the hopeful wait that should characterize every believer’s life who is looking to the return of Christ.
I could say several chapters more about the theology of singleness (and I have) but suffice it to say that if one labels single Christians as selfish, then he must also be labeling Jesus as selfish because he lived his whole earthly life as a single man. And I’d advise that a theological assertion like that be more closely examined.
2. Delaying marriage (either purposefully or not by choice) may actually contribute to more mature, longer-lasting marriages.
[Excerpted from my book]:
[I]f we redeemed singleness as a valuable season for intentional growth and maturity, we would have more people who go into marriage with a deeper appreciation for the complexity and sacrifice that faces them with marriage. We would have people who know the art of denying their own desires and delaying satisfaction – which are exactly the traits you need in a long-term marriage.
Instead of people anxiously demanding that they have what they want right now, you would have people willing to put the long-term needs of their future spouse first – which sometimes means waiting for more maturity in their own lives.
Rushing into marriage too soon shows a lack of trust that God can make it happen, whether you wait a year or several years. If you’re rushing into marriage just so you can safely have sex faster, you will have a world of disappointment waiting for you once the thrill of sex wears off and you’re stuck with a person you didn’t truly take the time to get to know.
And if you’re rushing so you can find identity in your spouse or your marital status, you won’t be able to stand with your own identity when the storms of life hit. You need to have a rock-solid purpose and identity in what God has called you to do, apart from any spouse – how He has gifted you, and how He wants you to be serving, sharing the Gospel, and ministering to others – and when you have this understanding, you won’t be looking to a spouse for that purpose. Because it will be rooted instead in Christ.
This is where many marriages start to crumble after a few years pass and the excitement of “playing house” has worn off. If you haven’t been grounded in Christ – preferably in a season of singleness, where you’ve seen the face of God in solitude and loneliness – then you will have so much less motivation to make that marriage last.
But the longer a person waits – the more they understand the deep requirements of marriage – the more they serve God and find satisfaction in Christ apart from a spouse – the more likely it is that if they do get married, that marriage will be fuller, richer, and longer-lasting than the rushed marriages of the impatient early twenties. Those marriages can last, too. And not all of them are foolish.
But all I’m saying is, don’t discount just how much singleness actually supports faithful marriages. God has a design for them to work together. And may we not miss it by loathing the seasons of singleness so much that we miss the benefits that it brings us.
3. Single people’s preferences (when not selfish or sinful) should be valued, not ridiculed.
Most married people would be appalled if you said to them, “You don’t really love your spouse that deeply, do you? I mean, you just give him a chance because he’s a godly Christian guy who takes care of you, and it’s fine that he bores you a little bit?”
And yet, it feels like this is the message that married people give to single people about potential dates because, again, they’re putting such a high premium on marriage. The married ones already have their person who brings them great joy and delight, so it’s fine that they can pawn off any old guy or girl on us, regardless of our interests. All that should matter is that he or she is a Christian, right? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people tell me to “just give him a chance.”
I’ve written on this topic so many times I don’t need to repeat all my points here (see “Why I Can’t Marry a Good Christian Boy” and “I Couldn’t Marry Someone Unless …”). However, as it relates to this point, let me reiterate that single people are not selfish for wanting to connect with someone that they have a genuine spark with. And if they don’t have it, they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for not doing more to conjure it up.
Single people should not be made to feel like they aren’t “doing their part” by forcing themselves to get married just for the sake of perpetuating the family. Thankfully we don’t live in time periods anymore where that is the expectation.
If single people have valiantly given many people “a chance,” and still found themselves saying no, it is not a fault of them being too picky. It could perhaps be God’s way of keeping them single for his kingdom purposes. And if they know themselves well enough to know when they would be “settling,” they are doing others the honor and respect of not dragging them into a half-hearted marriage.
Perhaps there are more older single people today because we have had the luxury of not being forced into young marriages to take care of one another (as were many cases years ago). Maybe young people today have become too picky. Maybe they have spent more time getting a college degree and a job before moving forward with marriage.
Or maybe a heartbreak happened in those early twenties and by the time he or she graduated from college and got a job, there were few options left and not many opportunities to meet other single people. And maybe that happened for a reason, and God is doing important things in those single people’s lives that we can’t always see.
Before we label someone as selfish, let’s remember that each person’s story is complex and unique. Marriage is not the ultimate goal in life – Christlikeness is. And if a person is seeking to be like Christ, whether married or unmarried, they are not being selfish.
May God be glorified in all of our stories.