I’ve never…ever…lived alone.
I left home at 18, moved in with college roommate. Then I got married before my 21st birthday. When my wife and kids aren't home, I don't even know how to go to bed. I just turn out the light and kind of lay there. I don't know how to be alone.
The book that helped me understand a little more about living alone is The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman. It's a story about a scientist who invents this suit that makes him almost completely invisible. He uses the suit to sneak into single people’s apartments to observe them for days and weeks at a time. He’s interested in seeing what people act like when they think they are truly alone. I know—creepy. But it's a good book. Take a look at what the Visible Man says about his experiment:
“You want to know what I learned? I learned that people don’t consider time alone as part of their life. Being alone is just a stretch of isolation they want to escape from. I saw a lot of wine-drinking, a lot of compulsive drug use, a lot of sleeping with the television on. It was less festive that I anticipated. My view had always been that I was my most alive when I was totally alone, because that was the only time I could live without fear of how my actions were being scrutinized and interpreted [by other people]. What I came to realize is that people need their actions to be scrutinized and interpreted in order to feel like what they’re doing matters. Singular, solitary moments are like television pilots that never get aired. They don’t count. This, I think, explains the fundamental urge to get married and have kids, or even just the need to feel popular and respected. We’re self-conditioned to require an audience, even if we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting. We don’t have ways to quantify ideas like “amazing” or “successful” or “lovable” without the feedback of an audience. Nobody sits by himself in an empty room and thinks, “I’m amazing.” But being “amazing” is supposed to be what life’s about. As a result, the windows of time people spend by themselves become these meaningless experiences that don’t really count. It’s filler. They’re deleted scenes.”
So let’s talk about singles, that demographic of the population that often feels the most alone… and often feels left alone by the rest of us. We tend to treat single people as if they are in a constant transition state that’s a little less than being married with kids. We often treat people as if their alone doesn’t count. The only real bits of life are when you finally graduate to a marriage—and then you get promoted to having kids.
But so many of our single brothers and sisters are constantly in this fight of trying to figure out how to be alone. This shouldn’t be because (1) your time alone counts; (2) your need for human interaction is a real need, a godly longing. There are two encounters with Jesus in the Book of Mark that show us something very important about singleness.
"And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he’s my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you’re wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mark 12:18-25)
Churches have long looked at singleness as if it represents a necessary deficiency in a person. In other words, if you’re single, there is something wrong with you. See, when we see “married with kids” as completion, we’re bound to see single with no kids as incomplete. But that’s contrary to what God says about being single.
1. Marriage isn’t human completion and singleness isn’t immaturity.
For the church, as the body of Christ, to perpetuate a myth that singleness means that you’re incomplete and immature isn’t only a wrongful condemnation of single people; it's a wrongful condemnation of Jesus. He was single and totally fulfilled. Did you see what Jesus said in Mark 12? When the Sadducees ask him this crazy hypothetical question about marriage and to whom this woman will be married in heaven after she has married these seven brothers. His response? “You haven’t been paying attention to what the Scripture says about marriage. When you resurrect, there is no more marriage.”
Do you know why that is? Because God shows us in the Bible that marriage is a sign, not a destination. Marriage points us to something. It doesn’t point to itself. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that the deepest, most profound mystery to marriage is that it shows off the way Jesus loves his church. Passionately, permanently, intimately, unconditionally, and in a way that gives life.
So marriage is good, but it does not complete us. It points to the love of Christ that does complete us. It points to the promise of our resurrection. Married, single, we’re all incomplete. Like the exit sign in Orlando telling you you’re almost to Disney World, marriage is a sign but not a destination. You don’t get out and take a picture under the sign and drive home; the sign gets you to the place where the real, full joy is.
Marriage is not human completion—resurrection is.
So let’s not perpetuate the lie that your time alone doesn’t count, that it’s deleted scenes. It’s not. It’s powerful. It's a sign of the Kingdom of God. Singles can glorify God in their singleness because their hope isn’t in their relationship with someone else—they are complete in Christ, looking to their future resurrection. There’s not a night of sex or a day at the office or a sweet lower back tat that can replace it.
2. Singleness without having kids tells people that resurrection is better than family.
In the first century—and even today—we think of children as a way to carry on our legacy. As a way to guarantee that we’re remembered and cherished; it’s a way to pass on our name and heritage.
Did you know that in original Hebrew culture, they didn’t even have a word for “bachelor” because there was so much tied up in a man’s worth in whether or not he had a son to carry his name? And into that culture, that mindset, steps Jesus saying things like, “My family isn’t the biological kids I could have…that’s not my hope…my family are those who do the will of God. Those are my brothers and sisters.” Into this culture Paul gives commands in 1 Corinthians 7 that its better to remain single, because of the way it allows you to further give yourself away to others to bring them the hope of the gospel.
That’s not some concession that just follows cultural trends. Jesus…Paul…they are saying this stuff when people don’t even have a word to describe it! More than that, it’s testifying to that culture that when you understand the eternal family that God has promised you. You’re eternal not because your name will live on, but because you’re united by faith to the King of the Universe, who himself raised from the dead. And when he comes back, you’ll literally and physically raise from the dead to live eternally with him and your church family forever, on a New Earth that’s conspicuously missing sin and death.
That’s the story your singleness has the potential to tell. See, your time alone isn’t wasted. It’s not a deleted scene. I agree with Klosterman when he says, “We’re self-conditioned to require an audience, even if we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting.” But in Christ, I would tweak that statement like this: “We’re God-created to require an audience, even if we think we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting.”
The way you live your single life is being watched. All signs are used by God to point others to the resurrection and his Kingdom. The deep longing of the human heart is to hear those that observe us say, “Well done. I’m proud of you.” The deep longing of the human heart is to be known and loved. It’s to be valued not for what we do…but simply who we are. In Jesus Christ, that’s exactly what we get.
3. Married or single, live as if it’s your hope—Jesus is.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul directly addresses single folks and married folks:
“This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31)
What does he mean, “If you have a wife, act as if you have none? If you buy stuff, act like you didn’t buy it. If you’re rejoicing, live like you aren’t really rejoicing?”
He’s saying there will be temptations to make things that are short-lived, both things that make you sad (maybe your singleness; maybe your marriage) and things that make you rejoice (like singleness sometimes; like marriage sometimes), and you’ll have this temptation to build your life on those things. He’s telling us to live like God is our joy, and like God is going to do something about our mourning. Live like the money you make can’t make you happy, because it’s temporary. And any time you use those relationships for anything else, it’ll devastate you.
So how do you live like this? How do you live with this eternal mindset that makes such a difference in the here and now? Jesus said that the greatest love in the universe is the laying down your life for your friends. He said that his friends become his family—he used those terms interchangeably. “My friends obey my commands…my family does the will of God.”
But the remarkable thing is this Jesus did this for a rebellious people. He didn’t do this for people that could repay him, but for back stabbers. He died for the people whose sins killed him. Our hope isn’t in marriage and it’s not in singleness. It’s not in money and it’s not in sex. Our hope is in the life, death, and resurrection of our Big Brother.
For more on this topic, listen to our sermon on singleness here.