By Tiffany Atkins
FamilyLife works to provide opportunities and tools for couples to build into their relationship. So you might wonder why we’re highlighting singleness.
Well, we also celebrate family in the wider sense, not just the nuclear version. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, marriages work best and bless others most when in the context of community. That community of mutual blessing includes, families with children, families without children, widowed, divorced, never married, those hoping to be married and those not expecting to be in a relationship. But if we are to truly embrace this wider family, we need to embrace each role and status as being equally important and appreciate the gift we can be to each other.
There is a tendency in our culture to see singleness as an inferior status. It can be seen as a temporary ‘holding’ status until you reach the real and desired goal of marriage, or at least being in a long-term relationship. Surely no one actually chooses a single lifestyle over being in a relationship? You have only to watch a selection of adverts to see how relationships, family and sex are used to promote a product to appreciate the implied value of those things.
Anne Witton writes and speaks insightfully on the subject of singleness. She explains how our culture is caught up with the notion of intimacy. She explains it in an intimacy equation which goes something like this:
Intimacy = sex. We all need intimacy. No sex = no intimacy therefore everyone needs sex.
Anne argues that if we are to believe this and you’re not having sex, then you must be condemned to a life of loneliness.
This rings true and surely feeds into how we can overvalue being in a relationship. And this over-reliance on physical intimacy to fulfill our needs doesn’t help married people either! We can over-romanticise marriage or being in a relationship so that when it becomes challenging we think we have failed and are tempted to move onto the next one.
Anne asks where does our security come from? Is it in our relationship status or how people see us rather than how God sees us? We need to have confidence in God’s relationship patterns and God does not have a hierarchy of relationship statuses. Singleness, like marriage, is a calling and a valuable status in itself. Marriage and sex are good things but not ultimate things.
The bible has plenty to say on marriage and sex but in the New testament, counter-culturally, there is lots about the value of being single. Jesus himself lived a perfectly fulfilled life as a single man. In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul, also single, writes about the value of being single (in contrast to the troubles of being married). He writes to the church as a whole, emphasising our responsibility to one another, not just as individuals or couples.
In western culture and especially within the church, we are guilty of idolising marriage and the nuclear family, doing things for and within our family units. It isolates families and excludes those not in our unit.
Anne calls for counter-cultural community living where we open up the boundaries of our homes and lives to include and involve each other more. It’s not very British but we can share our stuff, our space, our time, our activities, our sorrows and our joys. In so doing, we can better learn what it means to serve and need one another as a body, regardless of our relationship status.
Anne Witton is based in Newcastle and is one of the directors for Living Out. Anne spoke at Family Life’s Vision & Equipping weekend in 2019.
For more ideas on counter-cultural community living listen to Anne’s excellent talk ‘Secure in Singleness’.