Interview by Jesse Carey
CBN.com Recent research from the Barna Group shows staggeringly similar statistics when it comes to marriage and divorce rates among Christians compared to non-Christians in America. And though the problem of divorce may reflect deeper issues in the Church, singleness is an often-neglected topic in Christian circles. We recently had the chance to interview Mary S. Whelchel, whose book Common Mistakes Singles Make (And How to Avoid Them) remains a popular resource on the subject (it was recently re-released on Revell Books). Whelchel, who also hosts a radio show about relationships and works in ministry, explains why her book is so popular, discusses the statistics and tells of several common mistakes Christian singles make.
CBN: Your book recently went to print for a third edition. What is it about the topic of singleness that you think connects with so many Christians?
WHELCHEL: It connects with so many Christians because, first, there are more and more adult singles in society since people are marrying much later in life than before, and second, our Christian community has been slow to accept the single lifestyle as first-class, and it is often seen as a “waiting room” life before marriage.
CBN: Do you think that the Church has, at times, done a bad job of reinforcing reasons why you don’t have to be married?
WHELCHEL: As I state in my book, you rarely hear a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul points out the advantages of singleness for Christian service. Also, single adults are often not considered for positions of leadership in the church simply because they are single. That certainly sends a negative message.
CBN: The Barna Group recently released new research about marriage and divorce statistics and found that a greater percentage of Christians get married (84 percent) than the at-large population, but their divorce rate is almost identical to the general population. From your own research and ministry, what do you think the numbers indicate about many Christians’ ideas about getting married?
WHELCHEL: It shows that as a whole, the Christian community does a poor job in preparing people for marriage. It’s easier to get married than to get divorced, by far, and we should take a strong stand in educating couples who want to get married in our churches so that they don’t enter with unrealistic expectations, and inability to deal with the challenges of marriage. Just marrying another Christian is no guarantee of a successful marriage, but that is often the impression that our young people have.
CBN: You note that one major misconception is that a lot of people tend to think getting married will solve many of their problems. Why is that?
WHELCHEL: Because we are created for companionship, for one, and the message we’ve often heard from our culture—especially our Christian community—is that marriage is the preferred lifestyle. Single adults seem to often ignore the divorce statistics and the examples all around of very unhappy marriages, thinking theirs will be different. In addition, there are privileges reserved for married couples, such as a sexual relationship and having a family, which are strong desires for most people, and within Christian principles, those are reserved for marriage.
CBN: You’re also involved in ministry and talk with a lot of people dealing with relationship issues. Are there any common relationship issues that you see people consistently struggling with?
WHELCHEL: For single women, there is a common perception that there aren’t enough single Christian men to go around! And indeed, in most of our churches, we find our singles groups have more women than men involved. Many then become willing to lower their standards and settle for something less than a truly Godly mate. And too often our singles ministries seem to be a place where singles go to find a date or a mate, rather than a place for spiritual growth and community. In the book I talk about how single Christian men can sometimes enjoy stringing their female friends along, enjoying their attention, while declaring they are just friends.
CBN: Do you think sometimes contentment is an issue people are dealing with rather than relationship status?
WHELCHEL: If we learn to be content in whatever state we find ourselves, as the Apostle Paul did, that will eliminate the obsessive desire many singles have to be married. However, we were created for companionship, so even in contentment, we will have normal desires to find God’s mate for our lives. But first, it is a spiritual issue of learning to be content and having a more realistic attitude toward marriage.
CBN: In the book, you say that you would hear the Holy Spirit remind you, “I do have good plans for you. Please, trust Me”. Do you think that when it comes to relationships, it can be an area that people may have difficulty trusting God about?
WHELCHEL: Our relationships are extremely critical to our happiness and security, as well as our need for love and acceptance. Little wonder that we have trouble giving God control in those areas, especially when we can’t see evidence that He is working on our behalf at some given time. It is an area that tests us to see if we truly believe that God is sovereign and has our best interests at heart.
CBN: Your book is incredibly transparent, and you’re ministry and radio show have touched a lot people. What is one piece of advice you would have for someone reading this that may be confronting relationship issues of their own?
WHELCHEL: Learn to number your days—life on this earth is very short in comparison to eternity. We have to continually think of what is going to matter in eternity and ask God to teach us to number our days aright. Everyone will be single in heaven! Our greatest challenge is to live our days doing the good works God put us here to do (Ephesians 2:10). We can make an idol of good things, like marriage, as I did for many years. Marriage is of God, and it is good, but it is not the only way to have an abundant and fulfilling life. We must change our thinking about singleness and stop thinking that life begins with marriage. It is the issue of learning to bring every thought into captivity and making it obedient to Christ. The battle is in our mind. Please remember, God has good plans for us, and His way is better than ours. He is a trustworthy God. Learn to trust Him!
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