Success and the Single Adult
By Sherri Langton
“How old are you now?” my grandmother whispered, leaning into me. We were sitting reverently in the pew, waiting for the morning worship service to begin.
“Twenty-nine,” I whispered back.
“And you’re not . . . you’re not. . . .”
“Married?” I offered.
My grandmother, raised in an era when women married young and bore a string of babies, couldn’t grasp why I hadn’t settled down. Never mind that I had graduated college, landed a well-paying job, and lived with a wonderful Christian girlfriend. To Grandma, if a girl hadn't tied the knot by a certain age, something must be wrong with her. Everyone should be in the happily-ever-after set, not home alone.
For many years, I agreed with her. While I was growing up, the word single sounded like cancer. When I read the Bible's support for the single life, I felt less weird. But if being single was so great, as the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, then why did most of my friends constantly date, aiming straight for the altar? And why did the few single women I knew seem like miserable misfits? I concluded that marriage and children equaled success; singleness meant failure.
Thankfully, as I got older, I got wiser. God challenged my notion that a person’s worth is based solely on marital status. Over the years He's opened my eyes to the many ways He considers a single successful.
Upholding God's Standards
God began by pairing me with a few forgettable guys. First was Richard (not his real name), a college classmate who took me to dinner and a movie, then cheerfully steered the car toward his apartment. When I refused to go to his place, Richard fumed and abruptly drove me home. After I had a good cry, God gently pointed out that I'd protected my virginity, a counter‑cultural move He regards a huge success.
Next was a blind date with a handsome, well‑dressed guy named Hans. “He’s so good looking,” my matchmaker aunt told me. “I just know you two will hit it off.”
We didn’t. The best part of our evening together was the movie — two blessed hours in which I didn't have to hear Hans talk about himself. Our date was a brief lesson on how deceiving looks can be and how true Jesus' words are in Matthew 12:34: "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Preferring inner beauty in a person more than outer, God showed me, is also success.
When Craig came along, my grandmother thought her prayers had been answered. Craig was a decent, considerate Christian who didn’t rush me toward the bedroom or brag about himself. He loved me and wanted to marry me. Four months of dating him, however, failed to stir any affection in me. When I realized I didn’t love Craig, I broke up with him.
Years earlier, I might have been tempted to take the matrimony ticket out of the single life whether I loved the guy or not. But something more important than marriage came out of my experience with Craig: the realization that success is listening to my heart rather than following my head. God showed me that even a nice Christian isn’t marriage material unless he or she is God’s choice of a mate.
Influencing Little Ones
With the birth of my first nephew, Ryan, God began correcting another of my misconceptions: A successful single may not raise godly sons or daughters, but she can positively influence the children God places in her life.
My heart wrapped quickly around Ryan. As he grew, he and I assembled Legos, worked puzzles, and raced Hot Wheels together. Eight years after Ryan's birth, I held a second nephew in my arms — James. In time, I advanced from reciting nursery rhymes to studying bugs, playing ball, flying kites, and collecting rocks.
Through playtimes with Ryan and James, I shared the same delight Jesus knew when He told a group of adults, “Let the little children come. . . ” (Matthew 19:14). This is success.
As they grew, both my nephews learned that life isn't all kites and Legos. Ryan developed juvenile diabetes at 13. He rebelled against injections and a diet that set him apart from his peers. When he was 10, James underwent brain surgery. Despite the operation’s success, for months he battled headaches as well as his faith, wondering why God didn't heal him.
Then I realized that our times of play had formed a deeper bond between my nephews and I. I prayed for Ryan and James as though they were my own sons. I realized the urgency of Deuteronomy 4:9 — to remember what God had taught me in my crises and pass it on to my “children.” During our moments together, I told Ryan and James that it's OK for boys to cry and get mad at God, but that they must trust Him no matter what. Passing on biblical truth to young lives, God showed me, is another mark of a single person’s success.
Investing My Gifts
As I matured in my thirties, the single life began to feel comfortable, thanks to the unmarrieds God brought in my life. They weren’t miserable but happy because they were doing something with their lives. They sang in the choir, served on the church board, and volunteered in the nursery. Like the two wise servants in Jesus’ story of the talents, these singles used their God-given gifts and gained more than they’d been given (Matthew 25:14-23). This investment, according to Jesus, is success.
Years ago I invested my writing gift into creating my own line of greeting cards called Godsend. Each month I wrote a poem based on Scripture, printed it on card stock, and mailed it to people suffering through divorce, grief, chronic illness, depression, and other problems. I gained satisfaction from reaching out through my gift, and others gained comfort and encouragement.
Over the years, I’ve watched this gift expand into writing articles. I’ve been mentoring other Christian writers and helping them invest their gift of words in others. This is what Jesus meant by being "good and faithful" — the single servant’s success.
Leaning on My Lord
When the roommate I’d shared a house with for seven years suggested I buy my own place, I was excited — and frightened. Part of me relished the thought of buying furniture and selecting carpet. The other part froze: What about repairs and other homeowner headaches?Fear and faith pushed me to commit my plans to God and trust in Him, as Psalm 37:4 says.
When I finally signed the papers and settled into a condo, my new home meant more to me than any house in Better Homes and Gardens, mainly for what it symbolized: God’s faithfulness in answer to my dependence on Him.
I didn’t know then how much more I’d have to lean on God. Two years after I moved, a layoff cut my well-paying job out from under me. I worried about bankruptcy and losing my condo. But Jeremiah 29:11 told me God had plans for me — for hope and a future.
As I circulated résumés and scoured want ads, God listened to my questions and pumped me full of peace. And true to His Word that He knows my needs before I ask (Matthew 6:8), He led me to the perfect job three weeks before my unemployment checks stopped. For the past eighteen years, He’s guided me in a career that fits my desires and skills perfectly — proof that His plans are for my good.
I’ve built more than equity in my home and stability in my job; I’ve built trust through the best partnership I could have with the One who will not let me go. Placing faith in God’s promises, especially in uncertain times, helps me mature spiritually — success in God’s eyes.
Every Christmas season I usually watch It’s a Wonderful Life. One of my favorite scenes is George Bailey discovering what life would have been like had he never been born. Among other tragedies, George’s wife, Mary, would have ended up an “old maid.” Even the guardian angel, Clarence, is horrified at the thought.
I now smile when I see unmarried Mary. She represents what my grandmother feared most for me and what I dreaded for myself: a shameful life alone. My singleness, however, isn’t shameful. With God shaping my perspective of what success is, there’s no such thing as failure.
Sherri Langton is associate editor of the Bible Advocate magazine and a freelance writer with articles accepted by or printed in Focus on the Family, Decision, Today's Christian Woman, and other publications. She has also contributed to Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause (July 2007), Faces of Faith, Teatime Stories for Women, Becoming a Godly Man, and My Turn to Care.
Adapted from an article that originally appeared in the May/June 2003 issue of Today's Christian Woman.
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