Singleness: It’s Not What’s Wrong with You
Singleness: It's not what's wrong with you! Shelby chats about his visit with author Dani Treweek, who thinks singleness as a Christian gives us a taste of heaven itself. She weighs in on what singleness tells us about our forever with God.
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Singleness: It’s not what’s wrong with you! Shelby revisits his chat with Dani Treweek, who unpacks what singleness tells us about our forever with God.
Singleness: It’s Not What’s Wrong with You
Shelby: The truth is that not everybody is called to be married. I know that we think that they are, especially if they want to be married. We think, “Well if God has given you that desire He will surely fulfill that one day.” Tell me where that is chapter and verse in the Scriptures.[Laughter] It just doesn’t exist.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife
Dave: I just have to say it’s always a good day in the FamilyLife studio, when the voice you hear at the end of the show is actually the person sitting in the studio. Shelby Abbott is in the studio in Orlando from Philly.
Shelby: That’s right.
Dave: Welcome Shelby.
Shelby: –in the flesh, the chilly, chilly-
Shelby: –flesh indoors with the a/c pumping. [Laughter]
Ann: I know.
Dave: I know what you mean. You’re in Florida. It’s supposed to be warm.
Shelby: I know it’s 90 degrees outside - it’s 30 degrees inside.
Ann: Yes, and it’s freezing in here.
Shelby: Yes, it’s great.
Ann: Exactly. [Laughter]
Dave: You’re used to it because you’re a Philly guy. I don’t even know this. Did you grow up in Philly?
Shelby: No actually I’m a transplant. I was born in California.
Dave: Oh, that’s right. I knew this.
Shelby: And my mom remarried my stepdad when I was six and he was in the military, so I grew up all over the world after that.
Ann: How old are your girls, you have two girls?
Shelby: I have two girls. Quinn is 12 and Hayden is 9. I love being a dad of daughters. I like to treat them like they’re special. We go out on dates, and I want to raise the bar for them so that when they interact with men in the future they’re like, “Hmm, you’re not quite as good as my dad.” That’s a good place to be. [Laughter]
Ann: I watch you on social media and I’m inspired.
Shelby: Yes, thanks. I try to do my best.
Dave: Well you wear several hats here at FamilyLife.
Shelby: Mmm hmm.
Dave: I mean that, do you just wrap up FamilyLife Today, but you are the host of Real Life Loading… aFamilyLife podcast. Tell the listeners a little bit about that and today we are going to sort of listen to a conversation you had on your podcast.
Shelby: Yes, so my main job with FamilyLife is actually the host of Real Life Loading. So Real Life Loading is a podcast and it actually airs on the weekends on the radio as well. It’s for younger audiences 18 to 28 year olds approximately. It’s one of those new endeavors for FamilyLife where we’re trying to reach a younger audience and help them to see that we can call them up toward gospel living but at the same time have some fun in the process. So, it’s a little bit more of a silly show sometimes. It really is me. I–if anybody knows me well, they know that I’m super serious about my relationship with Jesus and very theologically bent. But at the same time, I’m a huge goofball and I love humor and did stand up comedy for four years. So I like to blend those two things together, and I think that Real Life Loading… is a little sliver of that in my life. So, I love doing the podcasts. It’s been one of the greatest delights of my career so far, so yes.
Dave: Yes, you can tell when you listen [that] you love what you’re doing.
Shelby: Thanks, yes.
Ann: And you go deep.
Shelby: I try to.
Ann: Your podcasts are deep but you’re right they’re fun too.
Shelby: Yes, mmm hmm.
Dave: So, what are we going to hear today, or interact with today? Because we’re not going to actually interact with it
Shelby: Not too long ago I had a conversation with an Australian woman, her full name is Danielle, but she goes by Dani Treweek. She has written a book called The Meaning of Singleness. It’s a bit of an academic book, but she helps us to understand that in the West in many ways, our picture of singleness, and particularly in the church, has gotten our view of what it’s supposed to be like incorrect.
We want to view it through a biblical lens and so she talks about that, unpacks a lot of the norms that we’ve experienced in the West about singleness: how we kind of look at singles, talk about them, talk to them about their singleness, and helps us to see things from a more biblical lens.
After we were done with our conversation, I honestly told her we were off microphone we were done with the interview and I said, “You know honestly Dani you are kind of like a sage in many ways, trailblazing something for us that we need to pay attention to in ways we simply have not done before.”
Dave: I’m excited for our listeners to hear this because a lot of our listeners are married. We have singles that listen, but most are married. Our kids are single. A lot of us are in churches around people, just like you said that we don’t speak or understand singleness in a way that they feel honored, so I think this will be great stuff to hear.
Ann: I think we’re going to learn a lot.
Shelby: Yes. So, this first clip Dani is going to talk to us about how our language–about how single people can make them feel deficient.
Dani: In one sense this is just the way the English language currently works. It hasn’t always been this way and may not be in the future. But in our time and our place to be single is synonymous with being unmarried or not married. So, people might be introducing me or pointing me out to someone and might say to you, “Shelby that’s Dani. She’s single, she’s not married.” But they would never say to me, “Ah this is Shelby. He’s married. he’s unsingle.” [Laughter]
Dani: Our language doesn’t work that way, does it?
Shelby: Mmm hmm
Dani: And so we define the single person by who they’re not. They’re not a husband. They’re not a wife. We don’t do that for the married person. We don’t say they’re not single, and so just in the way our language works there’s a sense that singleness is deficient, it’s you’re not something else. You’re not married.
Dave: I mean what a great point.
Shelby: Yes, something we just don’t think about very much but it’s so profound and it starts to just like you know if you have a wound on your shoulder and someone pokes at it little by little by little by little, eventually you go, “Can you stop poking at that same wound?” A lot of times singles feel like the way we use our language keeps poking at that wound.
Ann: I’m thinking of us as parents how we trigger our own kids, because we’ll do that and introduce our own kids by saying they’re single, not married, and it could be our kids are thinking, “Oh mom, are you trying to set me up again? Or–” But you’re saying it’s like poking them in the wound that hurts so don’t do it.
Shelby: Yes - [Laughter] and again it’s not one of those things I think they would think we’re trying to be intentionally mean spirited, or we’re using that language on purpose. Well surely there are people that use that language on purpose for manipulation purposes. Like parents, sometimes they do do that, or they get asked in church all the time like well this–she’s single in a way of like, “Hey why don’t you check out the options here that exist in that church.”
They can begin to put them to feel that they’re missing something in a way that something is wrong with them. But the truth is that not everybody is called to be married. I know that we think that they are. Especially if they want to be married, we think, “Well if God has given you that desire He will surely fulfill that one day.” Tell me where that is chapter and verse in the Scriptures. [Laughter] It just doesn’t exist.
Dave: As I’m listening to this I’m thinking when I’m around different ethnicity, I’m cognizant of my language because I don’t want to offend, I want to honor. I never think that way around singles.
Dave: Just that simple thought is like I should be just as careful. I want them to feel loved and honored and my language matters. So that’s a great tip.
Dave: Got to be more, right?
Shelby: Yes, so this next clip that I want to play with Dani is talking a little bit on the language thing but about why in some ways marriage, even though that we think getting married can be this way sometimes, but why it isn’t the best way to quote unquote level up in your Christian faith. So, we want to use that word intentionally here, because a lot of times we can think that singleness is junior varsity and marriage is varsity in a number of different ways. So, let’s listen to this first.
Dani: I think it’s important to recognize that for those who are married and who get married, God willing, it is a kind of, well I won’t use the language of leveling up, but it’s a way in which God is going to grow you to become more like Jesus. You know that’s the hope, that’s the intention. But where I think it can become difficult is that we can tend to think of marriage as the place in which God is going to do that and singleness is just this perpetual stage of Christian adolescence.
Dani: And it’s just not true. [Laughter] God challenges me in my sanctification as a single woman in all sorts of ways that my married friends are not challenged. And that’s okay, because that’s what God is doing in our individual contexts. He’s making us more like Jesus, where we are, who we are and the relationships we are in. You know it’s in Jesus that we level up, not through marriage or singleness.
Ann: Hmm. I think that’s so true in our culture. We don’t even know we’re doing it, but we are making this assumption that, “Oh, you are on the junior varsity if you haven’t gotten married.”
Dave: And I’m, I wish I was wrong, but I think we do it in the church.
Ann: Oh, for sure.
Shelby: For sure.
Dave: Maybe even more than the community.
Dave: And I’ve done it as a pastor. I know I’ve made singles feel like you’re less than. And it’s just wrong.
Shelby: It is.
Ann: I’m thinking about us as parents having adult kids. I know that when my kids got married, I had this sense of, “Ah,” there’s almost this security now they have someone that will love them, see them, walk with them. And it gave me this security and contentment for my kids. I’m thinking as parents, I think that we can generally make them feel less by hoping that they will get married because it will make them happier and more secure, which isn’t always true for sure.
Shelby: Yes, yes. There’s a lot of like you were saying even from the pulpit sometimes that they say, like pastors are encouraging, and I’ve seen it tons even on social media, saying if you want singles in your church to be more godly you need to push them toward marriage. And that has a complete lack of understanding of suffering.
So, I’m not necessarily saying that singleness is always suffering and marriage is always sanctification, but for singles who want to be married and aren't, there is a certain element of suffering in there that is unique to their situation. One of those things, and this is what I told Dani too, is that there are things that she as a single woman can teach me as a married man that I will never be able to know because she’s suffering in a way that I have not been able to suffer. She is suffering in ways that help her to understand what it means to be a true follower of Jesus in ways that I am not learning. She has a wisdom that can be imparted to me that I would not ever be able to gain on my own without listening to her and learning from her.
Dave: Well let’s listen to some more.
Shelby: Yes, so Dani’s going to talk about this in the book of Matthew Jesus says that we won’t be married in heaven. She’s going to talk about why this is significant for how we view singleness in the here and now.
Dani: And I’d encourage people if you’re not familiar with this passage to go back and have a look. It’s in Matthew 22. Jesus replying to some Sadducees about the nature of the resurrection life you know. Those are the guys who didn’t believe in the resurrection, in life after death. They’re trying to trick Jesus into admitting, “Oh Yes, the resurrection, it doesn’t really exist,” and they use it through an example of marriage, and Jesus responds by saying, “Well you don’t know the power of God. In heaven people are neither married nor given in marriage.”
And I want to be careful about applying the language of single there because Jesus doesn’t say we will all be single in heaven. I mean the word single just is not in Scripture anywhere. It wasn’t invented you know until like the 1500s, but Jesus does say we won’t be married in heaven. There won’t be husbands and wives in eternity. There will be one husband and one wife. We know the groom, Jesus, and His church together as the collective bride of Christ we will be married to Him. But individually to each other we won’t be married to each other. You won’t be a husband. I won’t be a wife. Instead, we will be brother and sister to each other for eternity.
And so, if we think, “Hang on this is actually going to be relationships with each other for ever and it’s going to be perfect. We are not going to be lacking anything in that,” then I think it actually confronts us to rethink about singleness now, that not being a husband or wife now, that only being brother and sister to other Christians now. It gives it a certain dignity and value and purpose in actually pointing us toward that future. It actually shows us that our lives are just as important in pointing towards the eternal hope that we have in the resurrection. In just as important but a different way to married Christian lives are.
Dave: You know Shelby, it's one of those passages I never liked. [Laughter] You know--
Shelby: Sorry bro.
Dave: –where Jesus says we’re not going to be married in heaven. I want to be married in heaven. I love her, I can’t imagine -- But I didn’t have the perspective that Dani just brought - a whole new perspective, say[ing], you won’t want to be.
Ann: You don’t need to be.
Shelby: You don’t need to be.
Dave: Yes, you don’t need to be. There it is. There’s a less than perspective in my mind so if I’m single, I’m less than. I’m not as happy. I’m not going to be as fulfilled and she just brought some real clarity to that. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us.
Shelby: Yes and I think that one of the things that singles can teach us. Well first of all, I love the word dignity that she used there. I love that word I can learn from that, and they possess dignity that I simply don’t as a married person.
But one of the things that I think singles know and understand in ways that perhaps married people do not is that our best days as Christians, as followers of Jesus, our best days are ahead of us. Heaven and earth are going to meet and God is going to reshape, reform, restore this earth. It’s going to be a real place where we are united with Christ in ways we never experienced before. Singles have a taste of that in ways that I do not as a married person, because I struggle with the very thing that you just said. How can I live for eternity without being married to my wife Rachel?
Shelby: That just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But to a degree my vision is a bit clouded because I’m married. That’s not to say that I’m less than at all, and Dani was very clear to say that I’m not saying that singles are better than married. She made that very clear multiple times. It’s just that so many times we have that tendency to look down on singleness, but perhaps they understand things about the future in ways that we don’t right now.
Ann: It’s almost as if as a single person they have really come to be the bride of Christ and He is enough.
Dave: Yes, you know and your next question, I’m really interested--
Ann: Me too.
Dave: –to hear what she has to say because there is this longing that you sense that all singles have, that’s a lie, but as a married person you often think that’s where they live in this constant state of longing.
Shelby: Yes. So, I knew I was getting ready to talk to Dani. I have a friend in our church, a single woman 35 years old, she came to me and my wife Rachel and she said, “Would you guys be willing to like mentor me?” And we were kind of, “We don’t know what that looks like but sure, okay.” [Laughter] Her name is Laura. She’s been delightful. We love having her in our lives, and so I asked Laura, I’m going to be talking to Dani and she knew who she was and I said, “If you could ask her one question what would it be?” and so Laura basically said, “How do I deal with” what she called chronic singleness and the grief that comes from the unfulfilled longing to be married?”
This is how Dani answered.
Dani: I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that there is a rightness to any grief that particular singles may feel about not being married. Marriage is a good gift from God. And so there is an appropriate grief and sadness about not having received that good gift. I think I’m wanting to be careful in my work and my ministry to not be seen to talking up the significance of singleness so much that I allow no space for actually that grief, because it’s a grief that I know well also. You know that sense of potential, having that door always open to the possibility of change to the possibility of marriage can make it even harder, because you’re always living in expectation and anticipation of something that you know may not come about. That can be incredibly difficult.
I think it’s important for our churches to recognize - that is what a lot of single Christians are grappling with. I think I want to encourage married Christians to have real conversations with their single friends, to ask them how they’re doing. But in order to do that well, build trust with them by letting them know how you’re doing. Be real about your marriages with them. Help them to know that they’re kind of not missing out on this fairy tale existence, but that marriage itself has its own griefs and challenges. I think that’s where the answer really is in being vulnerable with each other so that we can understand what we each are grappling with and to be praying for each other and helping each other to fix our eyes on Jesus.
I think we also need to encourage each other in the church, whether we’re single or married, to try and be aligning our perspective with God’s perspective on our singleness. God doesn't see my singleness as a chronic condition. It might feel that way to me at times, perhaps most of the time, but from God’s perspective I’m not chronically ill with my singleness. He actually sees it as a good thing He’s given me for His glory and for the love of others. So, I’m not single because I’ve somehow thwarted, you know, God’s plans for me. I’ve made a wrong decision which has meant that I’ve kind of ended up with the second best. I am where I am in life, because this is where God has actually determined in His good sovereignty for me to be. He works for the good of those who love Him. Which means that I, even in the midst of grief, and I think that there is genuine and right grief that we feel as singles, I have to keep trusting God. I have to keep trusting that He’s all powerful and that He is always good.
Ann: Hmm. Wow, that’s so good. It’s so powerful. I had a conversation with a woman in her early 40s and she was lamenting because she’s still single--
Shelby: Powerful, isn’t it?
Ann: --and a guy had just broken up with her and she thought this is finally the time. I’m going to get married and I could have a baby and she said that dream has died and she said, “My life, I don’t even see a point of going on because I don’t know if I want to go on if I’m not married.” And so it was such a good opportunity to say some of these same things. I wish I could have said it as eloquently as Dani did, but just to say, “Ah, marriage itself is not the end all. It’s not our hope. It’s not what brings us total fulfillment. It’s Jesus.” And I said, “Keep looking around like He’s with you. He loves you. He’s not surprised like, ‘Why isn't Dani married yet?” You know?
Ann: So how do we convey this? How do we, how do we help do this?
Shelby: Maybe I would just say to the listener right now. If someone comes to you with this kind of thing. You don’t want to meet emotion with facts and--
Shelby: –like analytical stuff. You want to meet emotion with emotion in those times. I think one of the ways that Dani put it was so eloquent, in a way that I’ve kind of synthesized it is, for the Christian there’s no such thing as Plan B everything is Plan A.
That doesn’t mean that sin is a good thing. God never calls a wrong thing right. He never calls a bad thing good. So we will sin and we will be sinned against. But at the same time knowing as we walk with Jesus, He can still make good things out of bad things. We have those stories of like things that have been horrible that have happened to us, but God–we have seen how God shaped them and molded them into good things and know that like where you’re at in your life is God’s Plan A for you and try to make the most of that Plan A, rejoicing in the fact that He is always with you in that process, that the finish line is not putting on a ring. The finish line is Jesus.
Dave: You know I thought that as I listened to Dani, I thought, “We’re all the same.” [Laugher]
Dave: Single people think, “I want to be married. Then I’ll be happy.” Married people, we’re married here and we’ve got to be honest there are times where I’d like to be single.
Ann: It would be easier.
Dave: Because marriage is hard and you get in this–you say single people like they don’t have any of the struggles I have. And they’re thinking the other thing. I want to be–and it just points us all back. We all have a longing. We think the answer is being single or being married and both are wrong. The answer is Jesus.
Shelby: We all have a PhD in comparing the worst parts of our lives with the best parts of other people's lives and vice versa. Everybody just does that and that’s a mistake from the beginning. We just shouldn’t be doing that anyway.
Dave: So, whether you’re single or married, that longing that’s unfulfilled is not going to be fulfilled in an institution called marriage or singleness. I’m going to tell you what you already know. It’s Jesus.
Dave: That’s why you have the longing and marriage only points to that and singleness does too. So seek Him.
Ann: Thank you Shelby. This has been really insightful.
Shelby: Yes, great to be with you guys again. Thanks.
Man that was fun being with Dave and Ann. If you want to hear my full interview with Dani Treweek on FamilyLife’s Real Life Loading… podcast. You can check out the episode titled Singleness: Are We Getting It Wrong? Just look for Real Life Loading… or you can get the link in our show notes.
Dani has written a book called The Meaning of Singleness: Retrieving an Eschatological Vision for The Contemporary Church. It’s a big mouthful but this book basically offers biblical, historical, cultural, and theological reflections to retrieve a theology of singleness for the church today. It’s an important book and you can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or you can give us a call at 800, ‘F’ as in family, L’ as in life and then the word TODAY.
Now I want to share a fact with you. The US Surgeon General has declared an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. Isn’t that sad? Maybe you’re not surprised, but could you be the person, you right there, that God has put in your community to pull people closer to each other and to God Himself? Well maybe a small group is just what your community needs to connect with God and with each other while you press into your faith at the same time.
We’re offering an unmissable 25 percent off for a limited time on all small group materials and some of those materials are just perfect for those who haven’t yet met God. They include materials from Dave and Ann Wilson, and they have studies tailored to your group’s needs like The Smart Stepfamily from Ron Deal. Our studies are low prep for leaders, which sounds appealing to everyone, so you can focus on connecting with people and listening rather than scrambling at the end to prepare stuff. Again, you can get 25 percent off. Just check out our link in the show notes or go online to FamilyLifeToday.com to find more information.
Now coming up tomorrow Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Elisha and Katie Voetberg They’re going to be talking about what life is like after the baby, the pain points of postpartum. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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