(Lisa Robinson)

This post is really not about singleness.  Although, by way of getting to something that has me increasingly troubled, I will use singleness as the spring to launch into what I believe is the root of a problem, particularly in American evangelical Christianity.  In contending with my own issues related to singleness, I note this as an objective observation, which actually prompted my thoughts on this matter along with other things related to ecclesiology that have come across my radar.

The single person who longs to be married, is generally told to be content in their present circumstance.  That single person should not express too much their desires for a partnership otherwise it gets labelled as idolatrous.  So the burden on their heart to be loved, accepted, to belong to a union with another is supressed lest the desire turn into an idol.  Now, I am not saying that we should not learn contentment for there is biblical support to do so, such as Paul says in Philippians 4:13 that he has learned to be filled (content) in whatever circumstance he is in.  Although I would contend that the contentment in this case based on his argument is more related to material comfort.  There is also the idea that we must endure hardship.  That doesn’t mean we are not impacted by it, but in consideration of our life not being our own, we consider the prize more worthy than our loss or pain.

Nonetheless, I have noticed the extent to which we celebrate love when it does happen.  From the time that special person is realized, each successive step in the relationship is met with announcement and fanfare.  The no longer single person can rave about their significant other.  They can publicize how wonderful it is and begin including their significant other in with every conversation.  The engagement is announced and every one celebrates.  This is just the beginning as the lives of these two people are intertwined, so is the display of the union.

So what is interesting to me is that the single person who desires this kind of celebration is told that it can be idolatrous.  But when it actually happens, it is not.  What is missing and longed for when it is not there must be supressed, but not so when it actually happens.  It is celebrated and encouraged.  Why is the partnered person not told that they are being idolatrous?  I don’t know about you, but this seems awfully hypocritical to me.

Ok, so like I said this post is not about that (and I wanted to get that off my chest).  But it occurs to me that there is a reason that longing exists in the heart and the reason it is celebrated with joy when found.   There is a reason that the single person feels its absence.  And this does not just happen with singleness, but a lack of relationship in general.  Although there may be exceptions, for most of us, the difference between having relationship vs not having relationship on any or many levels impacts us.   There is a difference when we belong, are accepted and have community vs. when we are alone, isolated and missing important relationships.  That is because we are created to be in relationship with others.  I believe that when God said it is not good that man should be alone and created woman, this set the precedent for our human experience – to be in relationship with others.

But more importantly, how much more should relationship exist among members of the body of Christ.  It is one thing to experience love with one individual, but for members of the body to love one another is how Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples (John 13:35).  That does involve relationship and support in meaningful and tangible ways so that we accomplish what is commended in Ephesians 5:19-21.  No Christian should experience isolation.

But I have been increasingly dismayed to the extent this is downplayed and particularly in American Christianity.   Our rugged individualism is fostered through exhortations concerning our Christian experience.  Our language is peppered with isolationism and individualized supremacy.  We make a “personal decision” for Christ.   We encourage alone time with God.  We tell the weak to be strong in the Lord and realize they can do all things through Christ who strengthen them.  We promote the idea that it is just me and God, as exemplified in this song called Me and God.

Now before you protest, I am not saying that we don’t include the importance of a corporate component in the quest to have some kind of body life.  But even when we do that, it is so our own life can be strengthened so that we by ourselves can make it.  The occasion of the Lord’s Supper is typically marked by isolation as I reflect on what Christ did for me. (Although I do note that some traditions encourage a more participatory focus).  In our corporate worship time, we sing in isolation.  We close our eyes to have our own personal experience with the Lord and sing about how we don’t need anyone else but Jesus, like this song.

I contend that this is still individualism in a corporate guise and I fear that we are losing sight of what it means to be the body of Christ,  to experience community with each other and have the mindset that it is not just me and God, but God and His people.  This is the existence that members united together in Christ are supposed to have.  The Christian life must mean more than just God meeting my needs, being strengthened for myself so that I can go out and be a witness for him.  The biblical evidence suggests that it is the corporate makeup that witnesses to the world (Ephesians 3:10-11).  It is the body loving, serving and tending to each other that causes growth and the ability to witness (Ephesians 2:21-22; 4:15-16).   Again, that means interacting with one another in meaningful and tangible ways that entail more than just a handshake or hug on Sunday mornings.

Going back to the Philippians citation, the context of his letter heavily weighs on body life, where members are encouraged to concern themselves with something more than just their walk with the Lord but how they may support one another.  When Paul says he has learned to be content that is not for the purpose of be strengthened apart from body life.   I also contend that in Paul’s apostolic ministry, he was called to bear a more isolated existence such as those who serve in that apostolic function, i.e. missionaries may have to endure the same thing.  But I don’t believe that is meant to be the brunt of our Christian experience.

Now, I am not saying that we are escape responsibility of our Christian growth by relying on others.  It is our responsibility to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)  and bear our load (Galatians 6:5).  That does mean spending time alone in prayer, in study, and in reflection.  Under divine discipline, there might be times where God wants us alone to experience the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and purge sinful orientations. But that is for the purpose of providing support to body.  How can we grow up in Him, supporting one another if our Christian experience is so focused on how our own personal experience?   It is fine that we have individual mission fields but there has to be a concerted effort in how we engage with one another and foster relationship.

But as long as we promote this rampant individualism, we will likely to be impatient and possibly neglectful to the concerns of weary, troubled, lonely or isolated saints.  Is it any wonder that the single person is expected to be happily content on their own?  Should we not be surprised that an overburdened saint is offered prayers to be strengthened instead of calls for assistance?  Or that the  isolated saint is encouraged to pray harder, read more and get closer to God, as if there problem is they need more of Jesus.  Maybe they don’t need more of Jesus, but  more of His body.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    22 replies to "If We are Not Meant to Be Alone Then Why Do We Promote It?"

    • Craig Bennett

      I think any desire can grow into idolatry, no matter ones status. I think churches can do a better job on the building of identity.

      By this I mean far to often the marriage framework is seen as the ultimate representation of the Trinity and therefore if your not a child or married your some what lessor of a Christian.

      Yet..I will propose that its the whole body who are meant to represent the Trinitarian relationship and the married relationship then is a natural progression or reflection of the corporate fellowship.

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      “Maybe they don’t need more of Jesus, but more of His body.”

      Cannot be put more directly than that! I concur.

    • Simple Mann

      “… I fear that we are losing sight of what it means to be the body of Christ, to experience community with each other and have the mindset that it is not just me and God, but God and His people.”

      Amen. Excellent article. Thank you for sharing.

      About five years ago, I attended a large “seeker-friendly” (purpose-driven) church for about five months before I discovered the little reformed church I still attend. In five months time, I never had more than a 15 second conversation with anyone, and that was usually the professional greeters that tried to catch everyone coming in the door to tell them how glad they were to see them that morning. I felt invisible. When I started going to the church I’m at now, it really was like becoming part of a family. People got together outside of church, just to spend time with each other, pray together, talk about life and the Scriptures.

      Sadly, that seems to have tapered off a bit over the last couple of years. We’ve gone through some things in our church (much like families go through). People have left. Some have been wounded. And unfortunately, as so often happens, I think that people in general (Christian or not) have a tendency to withdraw — sort of “turtle in” if you will — when they experience pain from relationships. To really draw near to someone is to make yourself vulnerable. And to make yourself vulnerable exposes you to the possibility of being hurt. And because most of us are pleasure-seeking pain-avoiders, we tend to become isolationist. I think that’s why Facebook and social media are so popular. We can hide all of our warts and just show people what we want them to see.

      You are right, though, when you say that there is an emptiness and a longing we all have that cannot be satisfied with mere surface-level relationships. I think we all have a deep desire to be truly known (warts and all) *and* accepted. Indeed, this is part of the amazing grace of salvation and our relationship with Jesus. But we do need to experience this with other people, as well, and particularly in the church. I was talking with a young man a while back and he was telling me about his relationship with God (personal), but he didn’t go to church. I told him to look at the Scriptures. The blessing promised to Abraham was more than just a son, it was a people. And God didn’t just call Moses out of Egypt, but a people. And God didn’t save Paul on the road to Damascus just for Paul’s sake, but He used Paul to build up His church. It took me a few years to really see it, but God wants and works with a ‘people’. Jesus was called Immanuel, which means God with ‘us’, not God with ‘me’.

      Sorry for the long rambling response. What you wrote got me to thinking. Thanks again for the post.

      In His grace ~
      Simple Mann

    • jim

      Great article Lisa, You are so correct! However, what generally happens in the churches I have attended are that a few folk generally take an interest in other members and end up overextending themselves and burning out from well doing……. If everyone would reach out and become a giver of themselves to others and not just a receiver what a fellowship that would be.

      But you are correct, I have been in churches where their actions did not mimick their words. I generally find smaller churches more personal with their outreach.

      My two cents worth anyhow.

    • BNAFreedom

      Thanks for this interesting article. In the sentence regarding singles who want to be “partnered”, I would use the more accurate word “married” instead. All the best,
      BNA Freedom
      Matt. 6:33

    • John


      I resonate with a lot of your comments, especially the concerns you levy against the isolation that has come to characterize the church. This ought to motivate the isolated to reach out and meet those needs within the church. It seems fitting to replace “neighbor” with “friend” in the parable of the Good Samaritan here. Jesus is questioned, “Who is my friend?” But Jesus suggests that we should ask ourselves who we can befriend instead.

      At the same time I think entertaining desires to be with someone when there is no one to be with can be dangerous. Its right for us to express our desires and hopes within a safe context, but it’s not right to leave it there. We should strive to be more in order that we might find more freedom. There appears to be a real sense in which Paul celebrates the “burning” a man and a women have for each other in 1 Cor 7 when he calls it good. But there is no indication that he celebrates a “burning” that is distinct from a budding relationship; that is, Paul is not commending the believer who simply wants to be with someone, he is commending the believer who burns for another person he or she knows. “Burning” without a real person as an object is fantasy and an illusion and it often ends up objectifying the opposite sex. I think the real problem is less one of idolatry than it is one of denying God the opportunity to fill that important void in the single’s life while she lives to please him and be pleased by him in the fellowship of the body.

      Nouwen’s chapter on loneliness in the Wounded Healer strikes a profound cord that resonates deeply with biblical truth. He turns everything we know on its head by suggesting that our loneliness ought to be viewed as something beautiful that has great potential when understood for those who can tolerate its sweet pain. It has meant a lot to me as I strive for peace in my own singleness.

    • Ed Kratz

      BNA, thanks for that input. I made a couple of changes but still left the partnering language in spots. The situations I described were not necessarily restricted to marriage but also the pre-married state. I know the connotation that you are probably reacting to, but please know I am referring to heterosexual unions.

    • Ed Kratz


      Thank you for that thoughtful comment. I really hadn’t intended this post to be directed towards singleness but to address a mentality of acceptability with aloneness/isolation.

      I do hear what you are saying. But my contention is that the desire is there for a reason. I do admire the single person for whom this does not exist or does not affect. Some are just oriented towards partnership. That is not to say that we don’t find contentment in present circumstances. We must and must have our hearts inclined towards God, where He can transform our hearts for his glory. I truly believe and have experienced that one can share in the fellowship of suffering of Christ with unmet longings and disappointments. Yes, the Lord can grab our hearts during this time as no other.

      I also think that singleness forces one to check their motives for wanting partnership. Not everyone desires marriage for the same reason and some reasons can be quite misplaced. Overwhemingly though, I think it comes down to something quite basic – we want to be loved in tangible ways. And that is the point I’m getting at too with the importance of the body loving and supporting each other. Yes, God does love each of us alone, but is exponentially realized when we are able to express that with others as we were designed to do. I love Craig’s (#2) description above about our corporate functioning and how the marital union is just a derivative of that.

      So it is not always or strictly about curing loneliness, I don’t think (at least it is not for me). When we project that on to single people we are basically telling them to get over it, making their desire to be loved and connected feel sinful.

      Also, we would do well to remember that there are single people with family obligations (single parents), which does restrict the freedom you mention. Paul directed his instructions of being free to serve the Lord to virgins (i.e. never married).

    • Benjamin Hester

      Just returned from R&R leave in Hawaii. Seated at a shaved ice stand late on a Sunday afternoon, my wife and I observed a Hawaiian Assembly of God worship service across the street (not my denomination, and not really relevant to the point I’m slowly working towards here.)

      Gathered in a long building with all the doors and windows opened to the grounds outside were a capacity crowd of perhaps 80-100, some singing along with a worship leader, others gathered outside watching children player, others apparently engaging in a small group study of some sort out on the deck, and some simply leaning on a rail having a quiet conversation.

      I glanced at my watch as the chaotic scene before us carried on, filling the streets with contemporary Christian music heavily burdened by a thick Hawaiian accent and negligible proficiency with the guitar, and noted that my Methodist church at home would have long since parted ways at this hour of the afternoon. Most would have briskly gathered their family members, and hurried off to the grocery store or other tasks at hand.

      Whether the scene before us was more distinctly Hawaiian, Assembly of God-ish, or both, I couldn’t say – but I realized after a while that chaotic was the wrong word to describe it. The right one was community. It was immediately apparent to the casual observer that there was not a single “Sunday morning acquaintance” in the place. Here was fellowship lived, rather than the concept of fellowship studied or preached that one often finds in mainland congregations.

      Reading Lisa’s blog immediately drew this recent experience back in to my mind. Her thoughts on the experience of solitude, community, and the impact of American culture/values on the body of Christ are all spot on, and in my opinion, driving forces behind the decline of several mainstream denominations, including my own. Worst of all, they breed experiences like Simple Mann’s above, where the celebrated rugged American individual enters a congregation, and soon leaves, perhaps meeting Jesus, but finding the body of Christ strangely absent.

      We mainlanders should take a page out of the Hawaiian playbook I think – perhaps a little aloha is what we need to help turn strangers in the pews into a delightfully chaotic community.

    • Jimmy the BibleGeek

      This is not a new issue.. “I come to the garden ALONE…” “And He walks with ME and He talks with ME and He tells ME that I am HIS OWN… And the joy we share as we tarry there, NONE OF YOU OTHER PEOPLE have ever known!”

    • Ed Kratz

      Ben, what a beautiful portrait and commentary on community. Thanks for stopping by brother.

    • John From Down Under

      FYI this is not just an American phenomenon. It is no different down under. I’d like to throw something else in the mix, that one of the reasons for this heightened sense of isolation among singles is the idolisation of family in Christianity (“focus on the family” and similar). Aside from a few notable exceptions, one of the worst things a single Christian can do is join a typical “family church”.

      Such churches are highly organised and emphatically oriented toward family lifestyle programs, sermons and activities. The strong family culture pushes singles into the margins IMO in terms of community interaction. The 20’s something singles can join a youth group, but the over 30’s are completely marginalised.

      We’ve attended churches like that over the years. My wife will testify how many times on the way home I’ve commented “how would you have felt today if you were a single person sitting in the pews?” because of some family-strong program that morning. It frustrates me to no end.

      Case in point. A few weeks ago we had a single lady over for dinner. We have known her for many years from when we lived in Sydney but lost contact in the last 13 years or so until I ran into her in a church I visited one morning. In our catch up talk the singleness issue came up. I asked her how she finds churches up here and she commented that she feels very much as an outsider because most churches are so family focussed. Mind you, this is an individual who volunteers a lot of her time on ministry activities and continually mingles with people. There you have it.

    • Ed Kratz

      John, I think the unequally yoked spouse is in even worst position. There is no attention paid to them. At least to varying degrees, there is instruction and encouragement to singles. When my late husband was alive, I longed for something directed at my situation. Talks of marriage presumed the other was there too. I recall one church I went to did a series on relationships and never even touched it. Ironically, I finally heard one of the best sermons of encouragement that I never heard the 5 years I looked for it, at my current church during a series on 1 Corinthians. I just had to tell our lead pastor how much it meant to me even though it was no longer applicable.

    • For Real

      Last two comments really hit home for me. I would very much like to hear that sermon.

      My wife of over eleven years left me just a couple of months ago. She was very gung-ho about church when I first met her. She was going through a divorce, and to be completely honest I sort of helped that along. I was not a Christian at all. I was quite the heathen actually; totally opposed to Christianity. And yet she loved me madly. We went out for nearly a year off and on before I asked her to marry me. We would go drink together Friday or Saturday nights, and she would go to church without me on Sundays. I eventually started staying over regularly before I proposed.

      Really long story short, between the time I asked her to marry me and the time we got married, I got saved in a big way. As time went on, God began stripping away layers of filth that had built up for over 25 years, and there was a lot of it. We attended church for a couple of years, stopped for a couple, then started again about five years ago.

      During the years we weren’t going, I returned to some old vomit (backslid, whatever you want to call it). The tension between us seemed to ease a bit. Then when we started back, the humbling and cleansing started again and my desire to draw near to my Savior increased stronger than ever before. The tension also increased and eventually my wife began coming to church only occassionally, and usually then missing Sunday school and Wednesdays and working in the nursery on Sundays. Should we not join me and the kids to read the Bible together (or on the few occassions she did it was sure to be so unenjoyable by the end of it that it really benefited no one). I began to become really concerned for her spiritual condition, uncertain of her salvation. I prayed fervently for a good while, and eventually expressed my concerns to her, although it was not well received.

      A couple of months ago she decided to move out, get her own place, and has been completely unwilling to seek counseling together, try to reconcile, or remain married. We have three kids together. No history of abuse or adultery or anything like that. Just discontentment and spiritual tension.

      She has filed for divorce; I just got served with papers about a week ago. And I find myself struggling every day with my identity — not so much in Christ, but in the church. What does this mean for me in the church? What does this mean for me long term? I don’t want to live alone… “outside the camp” like some sort of marital leper for the rest of my life. Yet I want to be obedient to the Lord and honor Him with my life. I would love to work things out with my wife, but if she refuses does that mean I am consigned to a life of solitude now because she at least confesses to be a believer (negating 1 Cor 7 and the unbelieveing spouse)?

      This is real life in the trenches Christianity. It hurts. I wish there were easy answers.

    • Craig Bennett

      I was involved in an abusive marriage….You should try being a bloke (in recovery from a severe debilitating illness) having his pastor laugh at him while he tries to explain the abusive behaviour and what was happening from his then wife.

    • John

      Mr For Real. I don’t have any easy answers for you, but I’ve been where you are, and I feel your pain ( and my pain ). Hang in there, keep going, and somewhere somehow your life will get better.

    • Rusty Leonard

      Really enjoyed your thought provoking post.

      I would like to suggest a book, Matthew Lee Anderson’s Earthen Vessels, speaks to our aloneness on several levels.

      I think our cultural aloneness you describe would be minimized in our churches if we were more about making disciples. Discipleship requires mentoring that if done according to scripture will build a community in relationship growing relationships.


    • John M. Harris

      Hood post, however obviously written by a woman 🙂 terms like “find love” or “to be loved” are from a few make perspective. Ponder Eph 5:33 for a while and realize that though a woman is looking for love, a man desires to be respected. Just a thought I had while reading your post…

    • […] by Lisa Robinson  19 Comments […]

    • The Truth

      i really do believe that God is punishing many of us out there that are having a very difficult time finding love, and to see so many other men and women that were Very Blessed to have met one another and have a family, certainly hurts us a lot since we are certainly no different than they are.

    • Mike

      Well now that so much more women nowadays are very high maintenance, independent, selfish, spoiled, and very greedy, certainly makes it very difficult for us good men really looking for love. And since many of us are still single and alone, it really hurts a lot Not being in a relationship. Many women today want the best and won’t settle for less, especially that many of them have their Careers now which the women of years ago along with their men had to really struggle to make ends meat. And i would really say that the women of today have really Changed since the old days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.