From a young age I’ve always been lonely.
I started playing video games when I was 3-years-old, which is an isolated hobby. Fortunately, though, it is a growing community where gamers no longer have to be alone.
I’ve always loved to write (hence this blog I started), so I prefer to sit at my desk and read and write than go out to socialise with people.
I’m very introverted (INFJ). I gain energy from being by myself and I don’t naturally go out of my way to be with people.
I was bullied all throughout elementary school, middle school, and part of high school. So, I don’t have a history of being likable.
I was a “band geek” in middle school and high school, so I was frequently a target for bullies even more.
I’m a classically trained musician, so I am deeply passionate about classical and jazz music, which places me in the minority since most people enjoy hip hop, pop, and rap music (which I can’t stand).
I’m a U.S. Army veteran, so I often feel I cannot relate to ordinary civilians who have never enlisted and can never understand what it means to serve your country. Coupled with survivor’s guilt and the serious temperament I have as a result of my service, it makes matters worse.
I’m a victim of adultery. While I was at basic combat training, my ex-fiancé got pregnant with another man’s child and married him without me knowing. I didn’t find out until a month after I graduated BCT. So, for a time I had difficulty trusting women (which I’ve since gotten over), but as a result of that experience I still feel unwanted and undesirable in my singleness.
Meanwhile, I’m a 28-year-old man who’s watching friends younger than I am starting lasting relationships, getting engaged, married, and having children—something I was supposed to have by the time I was 21, until that adultery experience.
So, I’m a really lonely guy. I’m a gamer, a writer, the introvert of introverts, I have a long history of bullying, I have interests that don’t interest a lot of other people, I’m a misunderstood veteran in a forgotten demographic, and I have a long history of rejection.
I’m not writing this for you to say, “Oh, look at how sad Ricky is. Let’s hook him up!” I’m not looking for pity; I’m looking for understanding.
I’ve had to deal with loneliness and singleness for a long time. My American dream is to have a beautiful, godly woman with whom we can raise beautiful children in the discipline of the Lord. That’s extremely challenging in a society that promulgates casual dating over courtship and casual sex over abstinence and meaningful relationships, and especially as a pursuing pastor, which most Christian women are intimidated by such men. It’s taken me a long, long time to be content with my singleness.
I’m still battling with my loneliness; it is really difficult to find companionship in a privatised, individualised society.
Singleness and loneliness are related issues, but they are also distinct in their own ways. So, first, I want to talk about the vocation of singleness, and later I’ll talk about dealing with loneliness.
The Vocation of Singleness
I’m in a Facebook group for Lutheran singles, and someone recently shared a helpful article, which is what inspired me to write about singleness and loneliness from my own perspective. The article is called Living Single in a Couples’ World by Jeff Marshall. I immediately related with Jeff because, like him, it’s as if my personality and childhood upbringing predisposed me to being perpetually single and lonely, which I highlighted above.
What was particularly helpful was accepting the reality that we really do live in a couples’ world. I look around and there are couples everywhere. They’re all holding hands, kissing each other, posting their cheesy and lovey-dovey Facebook and Twitter posts, and here I am, getting rejected by one woman after another, and am left alone with my books. Most of my friends are in a relationship, engaged, or married. I am often the third wheel, fifth wheel, or seventh wheel at social gatherings. It’s not easy being single in a world that sets couples on a pedestal.
I mentioned briefly that part of my constant rejection is my preparation in becoming a pastor. (I know, I know, there are a lot of pastors who are married, but that doesn’t mean anything. Any statistician knows that correlation does not equal causation.) But even more than that, whenever I meet new people at congregations and learn I’m going to be a pastor, one of the first things they always ask is, “Are you married? Do you have kids?” No, I’m not married, and I don’t have kids. I would be, but my ex-fiancé committed horrible adultery against me. I would be, but nobody wants me.
Of course, I don’t say that, but the question stings because that’s immediately what goes through my head. “I should be married, but my ex-fiancé married another man and had his baby. I would be married, but nobody wants my time.” There is this expectation that pastors and pursuing pastors should be married, and what makes a good pastor is a man who is married, or is at least engaged. Not me. I’ve had to end relationships because of the severity of my calling, and I’ve been rejected because of it, among other things (such as my introversion). So, for pursuing pastors or current pastors, if you’re not married people assume there is something wrong with you, such as a) you’re gay, or b) there must be some huge flaw in your personality that makes you undesirable.
So, for a long time, I kept thinking, “Being single is bad.”
But that’s not how the Scriptures approach singleness.
The best place to go to on the vocation of singleness (and perhaps you’re already ahead of me) is 1 Corinthians 7:25-35. I will list the entire passage and bold my focal points:
Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgement as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Let’s take this section by section:
I have no command from the lord, but I give my judgement. From this statement alone, it is palpable that Paul is not giving a command but is merely giving his own judgement—an opinion. A lot of people mistake Paul as commanding singleness (and therefore celibacy) in ministry here, but 1) Paul is not talking about ministry here, but Christian living; and 2) Paul explicitly says this is not a command but a judgement—an observation, or opinion—he has made.
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. What “present distress” is Paul talking about here? When we’re interpreting Scripture, the first thing we need to consider is the audience of the text. First Corinthians was not written to us; it was written to first century Corinthians! But what were the Corinthians experiencing that caused Paul to write this letter? In light of this, what was their “present distress”? This is where commentaries are helpful.
Is the “present distress” the “worldly troubles” they were facing (v. 28), or is it “the form of this world” that is “passing away” (v. 31)? Fitzmyer suggests it cannot be the former since it “has an eschatological nuance” (315). That is, the worldly troubles are the things the Corinthians are suffering until the end of the age—until Jesus returns. So, to remain single because of this is impractical. Likewise, the world that is “passing away” cannot be it either, since it is also eschatological. Both Fitzmyer and Lockwood agree this would make more sense if the Corinthians were suffering from famine.
First Corinthians was written in about AD 55, and it was common in the AD 40s and 50s for Greek states to suffer food shortages. So, it is highly likely the Corinthians were suffering from famine, which would make Paul’s advice to remain single more understandable. Lockwood notes, “It is easier for an unmarried person to cope with hardship than for parents who have to provide for their children” (253). Lockwood and Fitzmyer both use Jeremiah’s call as an example of this. In Jeremiah 16:1-4, God commands him not to marry and have children because of the imminent captivity of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, not because of his office of prophet.
This completely changes how we ought to interpret this passage. With this historical-cultural context in mind, Paul is not recommending singleness in a general sense, but in the context of famine where getting married and starting a family would be highly impractical and would only increase their suffering. With this in mind, we have to interpret the rest of what Paul says on singleness in the context of high mortality rates. So, Paul suggests, because of this present distress, it is wiser to remain as one is, whether they are single or married.
Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? The historical-cultural context just highlighted above makes this next part make a lot more sense. In light of the likely famine they were experiencing, if one is married, remain married, for you are obligated to one another and your children and must care for one another. If you are unmarried, remain unmarried, lest you increase your suffering during this famine by getting married and having children. So, this text does not mean if you are married today, you should not divorce your wife or husband (excluding extenuating circumstances, of course); and it does not mean if you are single, never seek a wife and just “wait for it to happen.” This is strictly in the context of a severely high mortality rate or an imminent doom to come. But, Paul assures them, if someone does get married during this time, they have not sinned, but their worldly troubles will increase. In other words, you Corinthians can still marry, but just be aware of the practical consequences due to the present distress you’re suffering.
The appointed time has grown very short… let those who have wives live as though they had none. This is a reminder to the Corinthians that they are living in the last days (as are we). Paul is not saying that husbands should live as though their wives don’t exist. Lockwood comments, “This does not mean they should cultivate a stoic aloofness and detachment from the concerns of the present age. But they should not let their lives be dominated by the world and its values. They should not become too preoccupied, too absorbed, too engrossed in this transient existence. Their true citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20; cf. Heb 13:14; 1 Pet 1:4)” (256). In other words, Paul is exhorting the Corinthians not to be overly attached to earthly things, whether it be their spouse, their goods, or whatever else. Rather, they should cling to the things of the kingdom (Paul talks about this again in his second letter to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1).
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. Here, Paul restates his reason for writing to them on marriage and singleness. Paul doesn’t want them to grow more anxious than they already are. By remaining unmarried, the single man and woman in this context have the unique opportunity to devote their time to the Lord more. The married man and woman in this context, however, have to be consciously anxious about this likely famine and so don’t have much time to devote their time to the Lord.
Fortunately, we’re not suffering any food shortages in America (that is, famine on a national level, not an individual level). So, what could this possibly mean for us singles today? Although we are not facing a national food shortage crisis, I think there are some things we can bring into our context today. The only thing I think applies to our situation today is Paul’s saying, “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided,” and vice versa for women (vv. 33-34).
To take these two verses and interpret them as Paul saying marriage is a bad thing is a wrong interpretation. He’s not saying that. Again, given the historical-cultural context, the married Corinthians were already worried about how to provide for their families. In our contexts, “his interests are divided” certainly applies to us. Married couples today face the challenge of going to church, participating in small groups and Bible studies, having personal devotional and prayer time, while at the same time having to worry about various things with their spouse and children.
It is not easy—their interests are divided. During devotion time, the baby might start crying and you have to put down your Bible and devotional book to take care of your infant. Or we might even forget to pray, or not even have the time for having personal devotionals. I think a married couple can still have time; they just need to make the time, which may require some sacrifices in some areas. The husband might have to sacrifice watching sports on TV during his off-time in order to spend time in the Word, or put off some other chore. The wife may also have to put off another chore or something she enjoys on what little free time she has to spend time in the Word, like reading a book. It is not easy.
In singleness, however, we have much more time to spend time in the Word. Whilst we may be busy with work and whatever social commitments we may have, it remains that we have a lot more opportunities to spend time in the Word. So, in our vocation of singleness, I highly recommend that we take advantage of this time to spend time in the Word, take advantage of our other vocations, and even to do the hobbies we enjoy!
To use my own life as an example, it is really easy for me to find time to do daily devotions and spend time in the Word. Because I’m single, during my undergrad I was able to find time to do devotionals, and even today at seminary I can still find time to do my devotionals. Speaking of seminary, being single gives me more time to devote my time to my studies. Married seminarians are often stressed between spending time with their family and having time to do their studies. I am blessed not to have that stress. Lastly, I also have time to enjoy my hobbies whether it’s gaming, composing music, reading leisure literature, doing photography, or traveling.
First and foremost, as we live our vocation of being single, we should take advantage of this to spend time in the Word in a daily devotional pattern. This should not stop once we get married! If we get a daily devotional pattern down now, I think it will be a lot easier to incorporate that into our marriage if/when we get married. Being single is also a great time to excel in our other vocations, such as school or our career. Use your singleness as an opportunity to excel in these that otherwise would not be as easy if you were married. And especially use your singleness as an opportunity to take time for yourself. In marriage, from what I’ve been told, that’s not as easy. You don’t have a lot of time for yourself because you constantly have to give to your spouse and children, which is a great and blessed thing, but sometimes we might lose ourselves in the process.
It is easy to feel lonely when we are single. Loneliness is not just about being alone, though. To suffer with loneliness, I think, is to have deep-seated feelings of being unwanted and undesirable. That is what I have been suffering with for a long time and still am. If you’re not single—or even if you are—here are a few things not to say to someone who is suffering with loneliness:
“God is with you!”
“He/she will come along! God has a plan!”
That might surprise some of you, and possibly offend you. Allow me to explain.
“God is with you!” As if we don’t already know? We know God is with us. Most of us aren’t doubting that. I spend a lot of time in my daily devotions and prayer; I know God is with me. I am so blessed in my singleness to be able to spend a lot of time in the Word. Here’s the real problem for us singles:
What singles are lacking is not companionship with God, but intimate, human companionship.
I’m not saying a lack of companionship with God cannot be a reason for loneliness for some people, but I do think for most of us it is a lack of intimate, human companionship. At least it is for me.
That is the great tragedy of it all. That’s what makes it so hard for us singles as sinners. God should be enough, but He isn’t! God should be enough for us, and He is, but no matter how hard we try and receive comfort in the Word, God is never enough for us. Lord, have mercy!
Sure, we can focus on our friendships and familial relationships for intimate, human companionship, but they don’t offer what intimate, romantic companionship offers. You just don’t open your heart up to a friend or family member the same way you do with a romantic partner. Yes, we open our heart up to God, and He brings us comfort in amazing ways. But God designed us for human companionship as well, and he created the woman so that man would not be alone. For us men who are single and lonely, it is as if we are missing a piece of our rib.
We call our lovers our “second half” for a reason. For those suffering with loneliness, it is as if we are missing a large part of us. Now, I’m not saying we find our complete meaning and purpose for existence in another person; that comes from God alone. I am merely describing what we are feeling, not what is existentially true for singles. We know God is with us, and we even feel He is with us, but we still feel alone because we are missing a deep desire of our heart. Don’t address what we should know; address what we are feeling.
“He/she will come along! God has a plan!” Regardless of your intentions, this is not comforting. You don’t know what God’s plan for us is. He indeed may have a plan, but you don’t know that His plan is to bring us a spouse. You don’t know that and it is foolish to claim you know that. You just can’t.
So, as one who suffers with loneliness, where do I go to find comfort? I go to three primary places, which might seem contradictory from what I just said, but bear with me.
First and foremost, I go to the Word. Though I am missing that deep companionship I desire with a woman, I still do find comfort in the Word. I need to constantly go to the Word to rediscover my identity in Christ lest I lose myself in my quest for a godly woman. One Psalm I frequently return to is Psalm 139:1-4, O LORD, You have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” God literally knows all there is to know about me. This can be a terrifying thing, especially when confronting our sin, but it is also a great comfort because God knows all my deepest thoughts, pains, and desires and He is with me when I am awake and when I am asleep. Even though I am lonely—even though I have faced much rejection and betrayal—God never rejects be nor forsakes me. I find great comfort in this.
Second, I go to my family. I mainly talk with my parents. They’re divorced, but I still have a close relationship with them. I know I can go to either my mother or father whenever I’m struggling with certain feelings, and it is always a great reminder to know and feel their love for me. I talk to my brother often as well, mostly when we’re gaming. It is a shared interest of ours where we can spend time with one another, which makes the internet a blessing. Thanks to the internet, we can game online together since we live in separate states and talk as we game.
Lastly, I go to my friends—or rather, a friend. Introverts usually don’t have many friends. We tend to have a lot of acquaintance, but not many we actually consider to be our friends with whom we are close. So, I find encouragement and companionship with my best friend, who understands me as a person very well, and I’m am quite the shell to crack.
Even though I still feel that missing part of my rib when I find comfort in my friends and family, it is still good to find companionship in them. Friends and family just cannot fit where that missing rib goes, however. That is the problem for us singles. (At least for men. I don’t know how women suffer with loneliness because, well, I’m not a woman. So, if you’re a single woman who suffers with loneliness, how would you describe what you’re feeling? Please let me know in the comments on this article.)
So, as we live out our vocations as singles, we can use it as an opportunity to spend more time in the Word and incorporate that habit in our married lives later down the road, to excel in our other vocations, and to take advantage of the time we have for ourselves. Whenever we’re feeling lonely, it is still helpful to find time in the Word lest we despair of our existence as I often have and be reminded of God’s nearness and refuge. It is also good to find comfort and companionship with our friends and family. Although we still feel something is missing, our friends and family are still good reminders to us that we’re not really alone.
More than this, however, it is important to talk about our feelings of loneliness. It is important to talk about it in prayer with God, with our friends, and with our family. If you’re reading this and you know someone who suffers with loneliness, remember that saying “God is with you” or “God has a plan” is not always helpful. Remember that as human beings, we desire that intimate, human companionship that can only be shared with that one person. And remember that you do not know God’s plan for your single friend. Let us tell you how we feel. In the process, don’t tell us how we should feel. We know what we should feel; the problem is that we don’t. Pray with us singles who are lonely. Be a friend by being a companion. Don’t be a friend by telling us what we should do or how we ought to feel. Don’t theorise about our pain; experience our pain with us.
For my fellow loners, I pray that you take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. I’m sure you know God is with you, so I won’t remind you of that. However, don’t ever forget it. Remember your friends and family who love you dearly. I know that rib is missing and that friends and family cannot fit where that rib goes; I feel it too. It is good to talk about about it with someone we trust. Use your vocation of singleness to spend time in the Word, excel in your vocations, and do the things you love. Spend time with your family and friends; they love to be with us. Ultimately, however, trust God. I don’t know if God has a plan for me to get married, but I pray that He does so I may use my marriage to His glory. I know it is hard to trust God in our loneliness. This is why prayer is so important. Talking with God about our pain is important, and going to Him in refuge in our pain is important. Either way, as we continue to live in our singleness, let us use this vocation to bring glory to God by spending time in the Word, spending time with others in our vocations to bring Him glory, and bringing Him glory in the things we enjoy.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Anchor Yale Bible: First Corinthians. New Haven: Yale University, 2008.
Lockwood, Gregory J. 1 Corinthians Concordia Commentary. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000.