If you're single, that doesn't mean you're incomplete. You can be whole in Christ. Clarence Shuler coaches singles to speak up and let your needs be known for the benefit of your local church.
If you're single, that doesn't mean you're incomplete. You can be whole in Christ. Clarence Shuler coaches singles to speak up and let your needs be known for the benefit of your local church.
Michelle: If you’re single—and single longer than you expected—you might be tempted to question God. Clarence Shuler says maybe you should reframe your thinking.
Clarence: When God didn’t respond to me the way I wanted Him to, or as quickly, I just go back and say: “Okay, God, what are You trying to show me? Am I missing something here? What about me?” That whole time, I wasn’t thinking about serving in the context of a relationship.
Clarence: I was thinking about getting—I’m thinking, “If I get this girl to marry me or to date me, then that makes me complete.”
Michelle: Singleness, God, and completion on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. Last month, we talked with Charmaine Porter about singleness and contentment. Today, I wanted to follow that up with singleness and completeness.
Clarence Shuler was in the FamilyLife® offices a while back. He is author of the book, Single and Free to Be Me. He was single until he was in his 30s, and he also leads conferences for singles all across the nation. I thought: “Clarence! You’re the perfect guy to speak on singleness to us—to help us understand just, maybe, what that churning is in some of the singles and then, also, to understand that sometimes singles need other singles to hold each other accountable and to understand their journey in life.”
Clarence: Most of the singles that I know do talk about it, you know, with each other—kind of as a support group.
Clarence: You know, so when I do my singles conferences/stuff like that, they actually do come together with questions they’ve already formed. My seminars are pretty interactive.
Clarence: So they—to me—do seem to be very vocal about it—
Michelle: —very vocal.
Clarence: —on blogs and other forms of social media.
Michelle: In their vocalness, what do you see? Do you see fear or shame; or do you see, “I love it!”? What kinds of different feelings or emotions do you see?
Clarence: Yes; I see all of it, really. [Laughter] For some, there’s a fear that—fear and shame are kind of tied together. Some wonder, “Well, if I’m really trying to serve God and I love God, why didn’t He provide a mate?”—you know?
Clarence: “What’s wrong with me?” The fear: “I may never get married. What does that mean if I don’t have someone to share my life with or have kids?—am I ‘less than’? Does God not love me like He loves everybody else?” Those are things that really come to the forefront.
But there are singles who are very confident in who they are in Christ, and they’re very secure in who they are. Some want to get married; some don’t; but they are content.
One thing I try to tell singles—because I was in my 30s before I got married—is that, you know, you need to focus on self-worth, not self-worship; because if you focus on self-worth—that you have value: God wanted you; He created you—you have value; and you have purpose; and you have a destiny. I say: “Really focus on that, and then see what happens. If you want to get married, typically, God sends people to you while you’re following what He wants you to do—I think that’s really important. And then, if you really don’t feel like you want to be in a marriage relationship, God honors that as well.”
But I think the key is really having that self-worth—not self-worship—but, “Okay, God, what do You want me to do?” That’s an important mindset to have in dealing with singleness.
Michelle: Yes; and what I’m hearing from you is—you’re talking about singles and the whole spectrum of singleness; and it is—it’s a wide spectrum. Working here at, FamilyLife, I see the same wide spectrum in marriage.
Michelle: You know, there are going to be some over here who are happy and love their marriage; it might have been hard, but it’s great!
Michelle: And then there are others, who, “Well, you know, marriage isn’t so great,” or even those we minister to—sometimes, at the Weekend to Remember®—who come in and go, “We come with divorce papers.” Contentment is hard in all areas of life.
Clarence: It is; it depends on a lot of different things—your view of God, your personal experience, your baggage, how you see yourself—all of those things—how people treat you or your perception of how people treat you—all of those impact us, whether we’re single or married.
What I’ve learned, especially because I do a lot of diversity consulting, is that people are in different places. Now, we don’t need to judge; but you do need to observe so you can serve and minister. They’re—like I say, singles—you said it so well—like married people, they’re in all different places—they run the gamut. My job is to create a safe place for them to feel welcome, no matter where they are; then, also, for me to learn from them. I think there’s some sensitivity involved on my part and, also, on the part of married people in dealing with singles.
Michelle: I want to go back to your comment a little bit ago about “less than”—somebody who’s feeling “less than.” How do you counsel a single through that?
Clarence: Well, you sit down; you listen to their story. You let them tell you, because they’re the expert on themselves.
Clarence: You let them tell you why they may feel “less than.” Then you see how that fleshes out against Scripture. You don’t want to preach at them, but you want to encourage them.
A lot of times, I’ll take them to Genesis 1:26—I say, “Just imagine this conversation—that the Trinity is having this conversation. God the Father says, ‘Let’s make some human beings.’ Can you imagine the Holy Spirit saying, ‘Hmm’? He turns to Jesus and says, ‘You know, Jesus, if the Father makes some human beings, You’re going to have to put on a fine-looking body; You’re going to have to go to earth and have some limited ability. You’re going to have to let them kill You, and I’m going to have to raise You from the dead.’ Now imagine Jesus looks at the Holy Spirit and says, ‘That’s good with me. Father, let’s make some humans,”—so knowing we were going to mess up, but He loved us.
One thing I try to encourage singles with is: “God loves you—period.” Another thing people don’t always realize—when God talks to us in the Bible, He’s talking to us primarily as singles. He’s not primarily talking to us as married people or parents.
Clarence: He’s talking to us as singles.
When they begin to understand that and, like I said, as you read that Scripture—Genesis 1:26-28—three times He says we are made in His image, which means we have His DNA, which means, when God looks at us—you know, like in verse 28—it says we’re blessed. That makes us go, “Wow!”
When God looks at us, He smiles. I say: “That’s good news. I don’t care what anybody says to you; I don’t care what your relationship status is—that’s good news! We have value; we have purpose; and we have a destiny—I think that’s good news.”
Clarence: So I pursue those things and, what happens, happens.
Michelle: But that’s such a hard thing to grasp. I’m thinking here of some of the conversations I’ve had with other single women of: “Are we valuable? We don’t have a husband or children; and we’ve heard, in some circles, that that’s the pinnacle of womanhood.” So then, unfortunately, we start believing lies, and we’re not hearing what you’re saying, even though you may be shouting at us and saying: “Don’t you understand?! God so loved you!” [Laughter]
Michelle: We’re not—unfortunately, we’re looking horizontally.
Clarence: Well, that’s very natural and normal. When I was in my 30s and not married, I had pressure from my mom to get married, like I owed her some grandchildren. [Laughter] All my buddies were getting married in their 20s.
I was wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” You know, back then I was cute! People say they don’t know what happened now, but I used to be cute back then. You know, I thought I was fairly spiritual; but I had this self-doubt, you know, about wanting to go in the ministry. I didn’t have to be married to do that but, you know, you get what you get—unfortunately, the church talks very little to singles about a healthy perspective on being single.
But eventually—the other thing, too, and maybe it was because I was an athlete/now, a former athlete—I think you need to develop some mental toughness. Mental toughness is when you don’t quit.
I had to realize that God loved me as much being single than when I got married. When I began to process that and say, “What does that look like?”—you know?
Clarence: I can’t demand that God gives me somebody—I don’t think that’s my place. If God knows what’s best for me—that’s kind of where my theology has to kick in—I’ve got to trust Him. God’s best for me is not yesterday; it’s not tomorrow; it’s right now. Lamentations 3:22-23 says He loves us and His blessings are new every morning. If I’m always looking to the past or to the future, I’m missing out on what God is trying to do right now. I had to learn to kind of focus on the moment.
Clarence: It doesn’t mean you don’t have self-doubt, periodically, or have something creep in; but overall, I’m not letting that totally influence my major walk/my primary walk with God. That began to help me—without saying, “I’m super-spiritual,”—it just gave me/for me—it might not work for everybody else—but for me, it gave me a frame of mind and a peace of mind so that I could function. That has kind of helped me to deal with being single.
Michelle: Was that a long process?—a short process? [Laughter] Do you remember those days? [Laughter]
Clarence: Yes; I do, actually, very clearly; because you almost want to manufacture something/make something happen.
Clarence: What I found out—I would date these really nice girls; but they weren’t God’s best for me, which meant that I wasn’t God’s best for them.
For a while, I just said: “You know, hey, I don’t think I’m going to date for a while; because I need to get to know me better. I need to try to understand God in the midst of this: ‘What’s He trying to teach me in the midst of this being single.’” You know: “Will I trust Him no matter what?—if I trust Him and He doesn’t do everything I want Him to do when He wants to do it?—or if He never does?”
I think the biggest question that came to me was, “Will I keep loving God if He never has me get married?” I think, once I answered that question, then everything fell into place, which doesn’t mean you get married; but I began to have a peace.
Clarence: I think, when I began to have that peace, then it just got to a place where it wasn’t a really big deal.
Michelle: Was there ever a time, as you were processing all of this/as you were getting to know yourself better, that you stood and you were like: “God, I don’t understand this! I’m really hurt; I’m hurt. I’m looking horizontally at the world, and I’m really hurt by the fact that I know what’s best for me, and You’re not giving it to me!” [Laughter] or “You’re not answering my prayers”?—I guess that’s probably more where a lot of people are resting—at least, some singles are like:
Michelle: “God, You’re not answering my prayers!”
Clarence: You do question your “spirituality,” because my spirituality is measured by the fact that I’m in a relationship: “If I’m really being blessed by God, then ‘God is giving me what I want.’” So, yes, I struggled with that. This sounds so terrible; but I would say: “You know, God, I’m a better Christian than So-and-so; he’s dating So-and-so! What’s up with that?—are they getting married?” You tell God all of this stuff, like He didn’t know! [Laughter]
One thing I’ve learned, or I’m learning—when God doesn’t respond to me the way I want Him to or as quickly, I just go back and say: “Okay, God, what are You trying to show me? Am I missing something here? What about me?” That whole time, I wasn’t thinking about serving in the context of a relationship.
Clarence: I was thinking about getting—I’m thinking about, “If I get this girl to marry me” or “…date me, than that makes me complete.” I wasn’t thinking about serving her or being a “servant-leader.” I would have been terrible if I had gotten someone sooner, not that I was anywhere near perfect when I married Brenda; because I was really selfish; I’m thinking about me—I’m not thinking about her; I’m not thinking about God. I’m just thinking, “I need somebody on my arm here so, when I walk into the room, you know, I’m “like everybody else.’” Everybody is not like that.
That was Part One of my conversation with Clarence Shuler—interesting conversation on singleness and marriage.
We need to take a break; but we’ll come back in two minutes, and we’ll continue our conversation. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. We’ve been talking with Clarence Shuler today about singleness. Here is Part Two of my conversation with Clarence.
Michelle: Okay; I want to go back to your mom. While you were in your 30s, your mom’s like, “I need grandchildren!!” [Laughter]
Michelle: There are a lot of singles, who are dealing with—
Clarence: Oh, yes.
Michelle: —parents, who say, “Could you just get married?!” I mean, I’m in my early 40s. It’s taken my parents—my parents love me, and they support me in everything they do. They love the fact that I am serving God with my life, but I can tell it saddens/it grieves them!
Clarence: Well, I have girls; I have three girls. My twins are in their 30s; my youngest is 28—none of them are married. As a parent, you wonder, “You know, since they’re not married and have five kids each,”—and all the stuff like that—[Laughter]—you wonder, “did I mess up parenting?”
Clarence: As I’ve talked to singles, I’ve learned that November through February is a very tough time;—
Clarence: —so I try to speak out, on behalf of singles, when I’m preaching or speaking about relationships. A lot of married people forget—because they get married in their 20s—they don’t think about what it’s like to be single—they forget. One of the roles I do is remind them.
Michelle: That’s so neat, because I don’t know that I’ve ever really sat in a sermon that was to singles.
Clarence: Yes; yes.
Michelle: A while back, I was listening to a sermon; and he was speaking to the marrieds the entire sermon. I was able to speak to him afterwards and I said, “You know, you could have tweaked a couple words in there and could have included the singles in this sermon.” His words to me were, “That’s not my audience.”
Clarence: Wow! That is his audience! You know, when I learned to preach, one of the pastors, who mentored me, said, “You’ve got to preach to everybody in the room.” So, when I preach: I’m talking to singles; I’m talking to that middle school kid; I’m talking to high school/college kid; I’m talking to the singles, outside of college, who have a career; I’m talking to divorcees. I’m talking to everybody, because we need to include them—we need to be inclusive—they are part of the church!
I mean, in the last part of my book, Single and Free to Be Me, there’s a section/a chapter that says, “What the Church Can Do for Singles.” I have 15-year-olds to 60-year-olds, who are single, telling about what the church can do for them in their particular age group—it’s powerful!
I tell singles ministry people: “The few you have—you need to read this so you can be sensitive to them. Don’t just come and ask them for their money/for their tithe; or ask them to serve at a marriage deal, because they’re single and they don’t have anybody. There’s more to the singles than that. There’s so much we can learn.”
Michelle: And what are a couple of the topics that you would have for church leadership that says, “We want to learn how we can be more inclusive”?
Clarence: I think the first thing would be to listen; you know, because we don’t have the answers. Let singles tell us from their perspective:
You know, when you do a marriage seminar or you preach on marriage, it would be great if you would include what it’s like to be single—how to have a God-honoring relationship, as a single. Talk about it for those who want to get married but, also, have a part for those who don’t want to get married. And also, as well, educate the church on how to relate to us/how to treat us—that there’s not something wrong with us because we’re not in a relationship.
I tell my pastor: “That would really mean a lot to me!—because I love the church; I love the teaching; I love the community; but I feel like the community doesn’t really totally understand me and, therefore, can’t totally embrace me.
“So, sometimes, I feel like a second-class citizen; because I’m not really included and those sermons don’t relate to me; so, Pastor, if you could preach a sermon or two to singles, once or twice a year, I think that would be huge for us!”
Michelle: And I don’t know if you’re seeing this, but I’ve seen this because I’ve lived this. As parents in the church are preparing a teenager, they’re preparing them and they’re saying, “One day, you will get married.” It feels like we’re being prepped and groomed for marriage. Now, looking back, I go: “No one prepped me for singleness. No one prepped me for deep relationships/relationships that have boundaries, but in singleness.”
Clarence: Right. Well, you know, my mother is really wise. Parents—they see us. My mother is so funny!—she made me learn how to cook when I was 14. She taught me how to cook, how to do all this stuff—clean dishes—all this stuff. You know what she told me?—she says, “Because I’m not sure when you’re going to get married!” [Laughter] So maybe she knew that I had issues! That was really a good thing; I look back on that and say: “Wow! That was pretty cool.”
Michelle: How have you and your wife Brenda—how have you prepared your daughters for singleness and marriage? How have you had those conversations?
Clarence: Well, amazingly, one good thing was writing the book. You know, I wrote the book so, not only did my daughters read it, but their cousins, who are females—I think they only have one cousin, who’s a male—and they said the book really helped them. We talked about things. They said the biggest thing that helped them was gaining confidence in who they were and not feeling like they had to rush into a relationship and, then, possibly have to rush out.
You know, we talked about the benefits of feeling like, if you’re not in a relationship—I said, “Would you rather be in a relationship that’s abusive or not in a relationship?” They said, “Well, I hadn’t thought about that.” I said, “Do you think, maybe, God’s not holding out on you?—maybe He’s holding His best for you?—but maybe He’s protecting you from stuff you can’t even see?” I just gave them options to look at: “These are some things you want to consider.”
I said—they’ve dated—and I said: “You don’t want to rebound—you know, just get somebody—you know, are you defined by your relationship status?
Clarence: “Is that healthy?”
You know, especially, being a woman, I want my girls to be strong women—dependent on Christ—but: “You don’t have to be dependent on a guy unless you’re in a marriage relationship. Before you get married, you don’t have to be dependent or submissive.”
Clarence: We had those conversations; and I said, “Now, once you get engaged or whatever, then you can start practicing that submission piece; but submission is not just like you’re a slave/it’s a voluntary yielding. You have input,”—so we talked about that. They said, “Yes, Dad, we like that.”
We had conversations/a lot of conversations we had with them when they were girls—when they were younger, like teenagers in middle school—about dating and stuff like that. I said/I told my girls—I’ll get in trouble with this—I’d say, “This is how a lot of guys think—not all guys—this is how guys think in regard to girls, especially, your age.”
As we began to talk about that, she said, “Dad, really?” I said, “Yes.” She had just turned down—I wouldn’t let her go to an event/my youngest—because there weren’t going to be any parents home. She was 14; and there were going to be 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds there. I said, “Honey, you can’t go to that party unsupervised.” One of her best friends almost got in trouble, in that situation with no supervision, and she said, “Dad, thanks so much for keeping me from going to that deal.” She said, “But, also, thank you for teaching me some of how guys think.”
Even now, as a 28-year-old, she says it’s really been valuable, as she’s dating guys and processing whether she wants to continue in a relationship or not. She has actually terminated some relationships because she said, “Dad, I don’t think it would be a good long-term relationship; and I’m looking to get married.”
Clarence: I thought that was really kind of cool.
She said one thing to me several times—she said, “Dad, I found my voice, and I’m learning how to speak out for myself,” which I thought was really cool. “I want to get married; I want to have that peace.”
I pray for my girls to get married, you know, every day, if that’s God’s will; but I want them to find the guy who is going to love God first and love them second.
Michelle: Yes; Clarence, there are some singles out there, who are content to be—that’s the way God has called them.
Michelle: I mean, as a single, I’m thinking of a sweet older lady at church, Diane. She’s of retirement age; she’s been content for most of her life as a single. She’s been content with just serving God and learning more and more about Him every day. I know that there are a lot of other singles, also, who are content in their lives.
Clarence: You’re right. The thing is—when I’m sharing with the singles, in my sermon for singles, one of the things I talk about is: “What if God is so jealous for you, or so crazy about you that He doesn’t want to share you with some guy/or some girl? What if God just wants to be totally focused on you and have you totally focused on Him?” In
1 Corinthians, it does talk about/Paul talks about how we can be distracted once we’re married—now, that’s a bad thing. He tells about how singles can actually do more for God than a married person can.
Clarence: I think that’s very valid—some women—very capable, intelligent, gifted women have come to me and said: “You know, I’m very content being single. I’m not looking to get married,”—that’s where they are. I say: “That is great! If you have a peace from God, that’s fine!” They don’t feel “less than”; and I think that’s really cool—they are secure in who they are in Christ.
Clarence: I think it’s becoming more and more common. Some women are like your friend, who has always been that way; and some women are getting to that place, saying: “You know what? I’ve dated and stuff like that, but I think I’m going to be single the rest of my life,” and “I’m okay with that.”
Michelle: Yes; Clarence, thank you so much for joining us today and just helping us—especially those singles, who have struggled, or parents of singles, who are struggling—to understand just what’s going on and what God is doing—how He is moving their journey along in life. Thank you.
Clarence: Well, Michelle, thanks so much for having me. It’s great to meet you and just have this time to talk about singles, because I love singles.
Michelle: What an encouraging conversation with Clarence Shuler. If you are single and looking for some resources, or you have a single in your life and you’re looking for some great resources, Clarence Shuler is the man with the resources. We have a link to some of his resources on our website. Go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that’s FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Have you ever wondered if your marriage is worth staying in? I mean, most likely, you said the part of the vows—“for better or for worse”—unless you wrote your own vows, that is. But what does that mean when life’s not going quite as planned? We’re going to talk about our happiness and marriage—and hear from Gary Thomas and Jonathan Pitts—on the next FamilyLife This Week. I hope you can join us for that.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the President of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. And a big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Justin Adams. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams will also be the mastering engineer of this program. Megan Martin is our production coordinator, and Meredith Empie is our production intern.
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