Singleness: Are We Getting It Wrong?: Dani Treweek
Singleness: You might think it's about loneliness, rejection, and a rough Valentine's Day. But Australian author Dani Treweek thinks singleness gives us a taste of heaven itself. She weighs in on what singleness tells us about our destiny with God.
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Singleness. You might think it means loneliness, rejection, a rough Valentine’s Day. But Dani Treweek thinks singleness gives a taste of Heaven itself.
Singleness: Are We Getting It Wrong?: Dani Treweek
Season 1, Episode 35: Singleness: Are We Getting It Wrong?
Guest: Dani Treweek
Air Date: May 6, 2023
Dani: I'm single. I've never been married, and that wasn't expected. I, like most of us, you sort of grow up as a teenager thinking, all right, which one of these guys that I know that I'm in youth group with, or I know through church, which one of them am I going to marry? Turns out none of them.
I thought, all right, well, I'll make some plans. And I headed off to Bible college and I thought this will be the place where I'm going to meet the guy I'm going to marry. That didn't happen, and it started dawning on me. Ahh, maybe I should sort of kind of start thinking that it's a possibility that I won't be getting married. That just made me more intentional about wanting to think about what does it mean for me to be single then.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic. This is Real Life Loading.
I'm your host, Shelby Abbott, and just a second ago you were hearing from Dani Treweek. She is still single today and in fact has a doctorate in singleness. That's a real thing. It's from St. Mark's National Theological Center in Canberra, Australia. Canberra, I think I'm saying that right. Dani has a new book called The Meaning of Singleness that I think is super important when it comes to looking at the topic from a biblical lens.
Rather than a cultural one. And when I say cultural one, I don't mean secular cultural one, I mean a Christian cultural one. First, we're going to talk through some right and wrong ways to think about singleness. Then Dani will get super practical in answering some questions about how to navigate life as a single Christian.
You're going to want to hear all of what she's got to say, trust me. So, let's get into my time with Dani Treweek.
One of the questions I wanted to start by asking you was, Dani, what's been one of your most consistent prayers? If you think about, maybe not just recently, but over the last five to ten years, what have you prayed for the most?
Dani: Oh, wow. I think it is that my life be about Jesus. This is probably about my eighth year now. Doing a lot of work and writing and speaking particularly in areas, one area of Christian life which is singleness, as a Christian.
And I think it can be easy to kind of make your Christian life or me for, to make my Christian life and my ministry about that thing and Jesus sort of being tacked on at the end. I desperately don't want that. I want to become more like Him, and I want to help others to become more like Him. He needs to be the top of the agenda all the time. And so, I think that is a consistent prayer for me.
Shelby: Yes, that's really good. As I prepared for our time today, I uncovered some glaring blind spots in my life related to my thinking and my belief system about singleness. Why don't, why don't we start? This is one of the areas where I found I was kind of guilty of this. Why is our language about single people something that tends to describe them as deficient?
Dani: In one sense, this is just the way the English language currently works. People might be introducing me or pointing me out to someone, and I might say to you, Shelby, that's Dani, she's single, she's not married.
But they would never say to me, oh, this is Shelby. He's married, he's unsingle. Our language doesn't work that way, does it?
Dani: 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.
So just in the way that our language works, there's a sense in which singleness is deficient. It's you're not something else. You're not married.
Shelby: Yes, that makes sense. I also want to hear how you respond to the idea that marriage is the way to level up to a higher level of maturity in the Christian walk, because you addressed this really nicely in a talk you gave.
Dani: Yes. 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 a language of leveling up, but it's a way in which God is going to grow you to become more like Jesus.
Dani: 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 single nurses just this perpetual state of Christian adolescence. It's just not true. 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 context. He's making us more like Jesus, where we are, who we are in the relationships we're in. It's in Jesus that we level up not through marriage or singleness.
Shelby: Yes, that’s such a helpful perspective to hear. One of the things I found fascinating as you describe this and unpack it as you talk about our Christian ancestors, who have said a lot of things about singleness that we've kind of completely forgotten about in our time today. So, what are some of the things we can retrieve from the past to directly affect our present?
Dani: Yes. Gosh. When I was doing my research, I hadn't intended to spend a huge amount of time in the early church and also the medieval church. That was something I knew very little about the church in the Middle Ages,
But I found myself spending most of my time actually there. The thing I found of most value in going back and looking, really at the church, before the reformation was the way that they understood singleness as having real significance because of eternity. The value they placed on singleness was largely thinking about this life now in light of the life to come. They saw singleness as having really significant eschatological is the big word for it. Yes, [It] just means sort of the end time value. I think that is news to us today that actually there is significance in being single because of eternity, not just their significance of marriage because of eternity.
Shelby: Yes. And you do this really nicely to help us understand, because we have a tendency to be focused just on the here and now. You've said that our view of eternity impacts our view of singleness right now, which is something I think that needs unpacking.
In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus says that we won't be married in heaven. We'll all be single for eternity, as you just said. Why is this significant for how we view singleness in the here and now?
Dani: Yes. 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 and it's Jesus replying to some Sadducees about the nature of the resurrection life. They're trying to disprove the resurrection exists, because I'm pretty sure you had this in America too. But I grew up understanding who. Sadducees were. They didn't believe in the resurrection, which meant they were sad you see? Sad, you see? Yes.
Shelby: Yes. Mm-hmm.
Dani: So that was always the memory hook for me. Oh, that's right. 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. 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 neither marry nor are given in marriage. I want to be careful about applying the language of single there, because Jesus doesn't say, “We'll all be single in heaven.”
The word single's just not in Scripture anywhere. It wasn't invented until the fifteen hundreds.
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, 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. If we think, hang on, this is actually going to be our relationship with each other, forever. It's going to be perfect. We're not going to be lacking anything in that. Then I think that actually confronts us to rethink how we think about singleness now, about not being a husband or a wife now about only being brother and sister to other Christians. It gives it a certain dignity and value and purpose in actually pointing us towards that future, which we're all waiting for.
Shelby: I like the way that you're at least helping us to pause and think about singleness in ways that probably most people haven't. Because the Bible talks about how marriage points us to like a good theological principle, but how does singleness point to a good theological principle as well? Because Christian singles are often categorized as people who can quote unquote, get a lot done for the Kingdom, and that's great because they have a lot more time or whatever, but what does singleness point to that's a good thing in relation to a theological principle or relation specifically to God?
Dani: Yes, and I think you're right that it is a good thing that we look at passages like 1 Corinthians 7:29-35, and recognize that Paul is saying there that there's something uniquely good about singleness as a Christian, because it does give you an ability to be undivided in your devotion to God, that marriage really makes difficult. So, I want to honor the fact that the Bible does actually indicate that singles are in a unique position to do stuff. But where I think the problem is, is that that's where we stop with our theology of singleness.
Dani: We just make it someone's singleness as a Christian is only good if they're actually A-not devastated by it, and B-getting stuff done with it. I think that's problematic because a lot of single Christians are really troubled by their singleness. They're looking for a sense of meaning, and the church tells us, “Well, your meaning is just do more things for Jesus.”
What I was really wanting to focus on in my research is, is there something that is inherently significant about seeing on us that goes beyond just, you spend your time doing with it? And it is that sense in which I believe, because none of us will be married to each other in heaven, you ought to be able to look at my life as a single Christian now and see eternity in action.
Dani: You ought to, I ought to, be able to give you a glimpse of what actually all of your relationships, including with your wife, are going to look like in eternity as I relate to you as a sister in Christ, and that gives single Christians now enormous dignity. That I'm not sure that we actually do allow them in our everyday Christian life currently. It actually shows us that our lives are just as important and pointing towards the eternal hope that we have in the resurrection in just as important, but a different way to married Christian lives are.
Shelby: Yes. That's so good. And it actually reminds me, can you also talk about how Jesus flips the script on the Abrahamic promise to redeem God's people? Because this is so important to understand how the gospel trajectory transforms the place of marriage and singleness.
Dani: Yes. I think it's important to look at, whenever we read Scripture, we need to remember that we are reading a passage that comes in a context of a much bigger story, God's story from creation to new creation.
So, it's important for us to kind of have that trajectory in mind and very broadly and very quickly we see that trajectory at work with singleness and marriage, right from Genesis to Revelation where His creation of a people, the fall happens, we’re exiled from His presence, exiled from the garden.
Then the rest of Scripture is actually about bringing about the restoration and reconciliation through God's new creation plans. He sets out to do that particularly early on through the promises the covenant he makes with Abraham to create a people for His own. The way He does that is that He says to Abraham, “I'm going to give you lots and lots of descendants.” It's through biological descendancy from Abraham.
That God is creating a people for His own. That is Israel. That's the story of the Old Testament, the fulfillment of that promise.
Dani: But Jesus blows everything wide open as He tends to be,
Shelby: As He often does.
Dani: Yes, and what we discover is that it's not that God's changed his mind. It's not that He's gone, all right. We're changing things up now; we're going to go with plan B.
All along, God's plan has been to actually not bring about biological children through the descendants of Abraham, but spiritual children through faith in Jesus Christ who were adopted into the family of God. And so that's where we see the inclusion of the Gentiles and non-Jews into God's plans in Jesus.
And a lot of the New Testament is actually concerned with talking about that. Now, what that means is that actually who we are in Jesus is not primarily about the biological family that we are descended from. It's not primarily about getting married in order to have more biological descendants to build God's Kingdom in Jesus. It's not about our physical birth - it's our spiritual rebirth that matters. It's our adoption into His family and so we see that as much as marriage is still good and important, and children are still wonderful and important, don't hear me. Sure, of course - I feel like I always need to qualify that.
Shelby: Yes, you're not knocking it at all.
Dani: Excellent. Yes. But when we look at, you know, a passage like Matthew 12, Jesus is talking to a crowd and His mother and brothers, are sort of outside wanting to talk to Him. And they're trying to get in and a message finally gets forward to the front to Jesus that they're outside, they want to speak to Him, and Jesus says, “Who is my mother?
Who are my brothers?” His mother and brother are brothers are right there.
Shelby: And He says kind of offensive. Yes.
Dani: Yes. Like, I think we, we skip over how shocking this is. He actually says, “My mother and my brothers and my sisters are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
He's redefining what it means to be family to each other in that moment. Jesus still loves and honors. You see that at the cross. He honors His mother as he says to the Apostle John, “This is your mother.” It's not like suddenly your biological family is of no significance to you whatsoever. But he does redefine what it means to be family to each other and what it means to be part of God's family. And I think we need to take that seriously.
Shelby: And now it's time for “Three Dots-Three Thoughts” on Real Life Loading. Okay, so this is where I share three simple ideas that could potentially change your life or at least slightly improve it.
Thought one: If I ever get a text message from anyone and it contains these four words, “We need to talk.” It doesn't matter who the text is from, I am immediately terrified. Nobody wants to get that text right, ever. So, if you've ever sent that to someone, repent and then apologize to the person you sent it to. Or it might be a great prank to play on someone right now to see how they respond when you text it to them. If you do send it, hit me up and let me know how people respond. I'd love to hear what they text back to you.
Thought two: Where two or more Christians are gathered together, a guitar will suddenly appear and it's going to turn into a worship night. So be prepared, I guess, and brush up on your Phil Wickham chords and lyrics.
Thought three: Many Christians know that Jesus is referred to as our Savior. You can see that in Luke 2:11 for example, and the obvious implication when we hear the word Savior is that we need to be saved from something, right or rescued. But what exactly do we need to be rescued from? That's an important question and not many know how to unpack it in a biblical sense.
Well, the answer is that we need to be saved from ourselves. In Matthew 15, Jesus says that, “out of the heart, come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness and slander.” And then He says, “These are what defile a person.”
So ultimately, what do I need to be saved from? It's me. Hi. I'm the problem. It's me. When I come to the realization that for the most part, I'm my own biggest problem in life. I'll see really quickly that Jesus rescues me from me. And while our culture might baulk at that idea, it's not bad news. It's actually really, really good news. Jesus sees me in all my filth and my failure, and yet still loves me to the highest of heights. He rescues me. He loves me. And now because of his life, death, and resurrection, I'm forever His. I needed to be saved and Jesus Christ did the saving. That's good news. If I've ever heard good news.
This has been Three Dots, Three Thoughts on Real Life Loading. Now back to my time with Dani Treweek.
I have a friend who's actually in our church. She's single, so this is from my friend Laura. She says, “as someone whose quote unquote season of singleness has been ten plus years at this point, it could sometimes feel like an invisible, chronic pain that often goes unseen or forgotten by those closest to the single person.”
What encouragement would you share to someone who struggles in their singleness or has given up hope that things will change as they've prayed to God and yet still ache for a spouse or family, or maybe they've even resigned themselves to being single and are kind of cynical about the chances of getting married and having a family? What would you say to that person?
Dani: Yes. Thanks Laura. Let me, I'm sure you know this, but let me say it anyway, “You're not alone in that.” I have countless conversations with singles, who would express very similar things and I felt the same thing at times. And 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. And I think I'm wanting to be careful in my work and my ministry to not be seen to be 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.
And I think Laura is right. It is a grief that many of those around us don't realize that we are wrestling with frequently. That sense, potential [of] 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.
Shelby: Right, yes.
Dani: That can be incredibly difficult, and I think it's important for our churches to recognize that - that is what a lot of single Christians are grappling with. And so, in terms of practical [application], how do churches do this? 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 we’ll build trust with them by actually letting them know how you are doing, be real about your marriages with them. Help them to know that they're kind of not missing out on this fairytale existence. But that marriage itself has its own griefs and challenges. I think that's where the answer really is. It's in actually being vulnerable with each other so that we can understand what we're each grappling with and to be praying for each other and helping each other 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. And 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.
Shelby: Yes. [Chuckles]
Dani: He actually sees it as a good thing he's given me for His glory and for the love of others. And so, I'm not single because I've somehow thwarted 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. And He works for the good of those who love Him, which means I even in the midst of my grief, and I think there is genuine and right grief that we feel as singles, I have to keep trusting God. I have to keep trusting that He is all powerful and that He's always good.
Shelby: Well, so I wanted to ask another question. This is from Kaytlynn. She said, “There's been this idea swirling around that if God puts marriage on your heart, then He gave that to you for a reason,” which I've heard this several times. But what about if you're single? Why would God put this on your heart for no reason? Does that mean that I'm not ready to receive it? Or this can tie into a lot of feelings of being unworthy or ashamed as well.
I thought this was a really great question, because I've heard this so many times that if He puts it on your heart, He put it there for a reason. Then we get people who are single, who have it on their heart, and then they start to question what they think about the nature of their relationship with God. Like, have I been reading this wrong? So how would you respond to that?
Dani: Yes, I've got a million things going through my head. I've got to make sense of them. As I've said, “I think marriage is a good thing. It is a good part of God's creation.”
And so, there is a sense in which I think it should be right as God's created people, as humans who have been created for relationship to actually long for marriage.
So, in one sense, I think we can clearly say, “if you have a desire for marriage, it's a desire for a good thing.” At the same time, I’m going to be a little bit provocative here, I think we'll see how it goes.
Shelby: Oh, good. Good, good.
Dani: [Laughter] Well, maybe it's not that provocative, but we'll see if I'm over promising. I think sometimes we can mistake the desires on our heart that have been formed and shaped by other things rather than by God. So yes, if we desire marriage, we desire a good thing. But our desire for marriage is shaped by, I suspect a lot more than just God's heart for marriage. It's shaped by the Christian context in which we live, the world in which we live, in which, you know, we live in the 21st century West in a time when, for a couple of hundred years now really, we have been told that the key to authentic fulfillment is finding a romantic partner who's going to love you endlessly.
Dani: And having endlessly wonderful sex with that person. That's the way that you fulfill yourself as an individual. That's the world around us has very much - I think it's shifting more away from the romantic side of it to the sexual side of it, but It's part of the air we breathe. So, I think we have to be ready to actually interrogate the desires of our heart.
To what extent is it because we desire a good thing that God has given us a desire for? To what extent are those desires shaped by the world around us? And how do we actually try and determine the difference between those two things? That, again, is a very complicated process. But I do think it, it involves us being willing to recognize the water that we're swimming in and its convictions about what does it mean to live as a fulfilled person. Then we need to go back to Scripture and look at what does Jesus say it is to have life to the full. Life to the full is in Him. Life to the full is not in having a husband-
Dani: -even though that is a good thing. So again, I'm giving the answer of the gray nuance in between rather than the black and white. I think we need to do the hard work and ask God to help us be discerning about what our desires are and where they're coming from, and how they actually point us to Jesus.
Shelby: Yes, that's really helpful and often we don't realize that we're swimming in those waters or, or we're breathing that air, as you said. We don't recognize that the media that we consume from the time that we're a child, to how our church shapes and forms what family looks like, and how we care for one another, in the context of being a family of God as opposed to just the nuclear family that we've seen depicted since the 1950s.
So, there's also plenty of people out there who are single, and they don't feel maybe a call to get married. They're kind of satisfied with the position that they're in right now, but they kind of, in particular from the Christian subculture, get this pressure to say that they should get married. That they should have a desire to be with someone else, but they're kind of like, “I'm good for now.” How would you respond to someone like that? Who's asking that question? What am I supposed to do in this situation, where I'm kind of being nudged in a certain direction, but I'm okay being single?
Dani: Yes. It's all kind of all of one, or all of the other, isn't it? We struggle to let that pendulum kind of settle in the middle. Yes, I think that's a really helpful question for people who themselves are content in their singleness, perhaps for people for whom single, they just know that marriage isn't an option. There's a range of reasons for which that might be the case. We as a church need to recognize that our job to disciple Christians is to not work out how to get them married, despite some things I have heard key Christian leaders say over the years - that is not what your job is in discipling singles. As much as marriage is a good thing, that's not the end goal.
Shelby: Yes, it's not the ultimate thing.
Dani: Yes, their godliness is the end goal, not their marriage. So, for those who are out there, who are single, who are content in their singleness, or who perhaps, maybe not particularly content, but know that actually unless, God does something that they're not expecting, that they won't actually end up married.
I actually just want to affirm you in actually it's okay to be there. It's actually a good thing to be in that space, where you have resolved in your mind, that marriage is likely not in your future. Again, I want to challenge us all to go what, if you're in that situation, why are you enjoying your singleness? Why is it something that you are actually embracing? Yes, singleness itself is a good thing. There are lots of joys and benefits that can come with it. But just like marriage, we can turn it inward on ourselves. We can use it for our purposes rather than for God's purposes. If you are content or committed to singleness,
I want to encourage you to actually make sure that you're content and committed to it for God's reasons rather than your own. And that can be a bit confronting at times too. Because some of the things occasionally that get said about singles can be true. Don't let them be true. Let's make it to the point where actually those things are not true by being single in the way that God delights in that, rather than the way that we or the world would necessarily delight in it.
Shelby: Yes, beautifully said.
When we were done with the interview, I told Dani that the work she's doing in talking and writing about singleness is so important. Many of us have been shaped by a narrative that simply doesn't line up with what the Bible teaches about being single, and Dani is helping so many people find renewed hope and joy in Christ and helping people to know that they aren't alone.
I told her this after we were done talking, but the world is not worthy of people like her. And I think I seriously embarrassed her, but hopefully she felt a bit of encouragement because that was my intention. If this episode with Dani Treweek was helpful for you or a friend of yours, I'd love for you to share today’s podcast with a family member or a friend. And wherever you get your podcasts, it could really advance what we're doing with Real Life Loading. If you'd rate and review us, and it's monumentally easy to find us on our social channels. Just search for real life floating or look for our link tree in the show notes.
I want to thank everyone who's on the Real Life Loading team, Kaytlynn, Jarrett, Chloe, and Josh. I'm Shelby Abbott. I'll see you back next time on Real Life Loading.
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