So it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Seemingly everywhere you look is a celebration of love and romance. There’s so much sweetness in the air (and on store shelves), it has almost the opposite effect.
Especially if you’re single. Valentine’s Day is often one of the most uncomfortable days of the year. It’s that one special day a year in which single people are painfully reminded that we may very well die alone and childless. Unfortunately, in our romance and sex-saturated culture, every day kind of reminds you of that.
The church hasn’t offered much by way of alternatives. In the evangelical church, there’s far too much “Jesus is my boyfriend” or “I’m dating Jesus”-type songs and teaching that it trivializes the kind of intimacy that can exist between God and humanity. And it silences the deeper pain of loneliness and disappointment that single adults — both gay and straight — can feel. Humans were made for relationship with God, but we were also made for relationships with each other.
There are a couple of issues at work here. On one hand, we’re fed so much junk about sex and romance and relationships from our culture that it becomes difficult to think any differently about love. When the highest, most celebrated form of love in our culture is erotic love and romance, the concept of spiritual intimacy with God seems unsatisfying and — let’s be real — also kind of icky. It feels like a consolation prize, something you say to make yourself feel better about being alone.
On the other hand, in the church, marriage almost becomes an idol. Christina Cleveland writes all kinds of amazing things about singleness in this essay, (so many I want to quote!) but this stands out:
“After interacting with the church, many singles start to wonder: Is there something wrong with me? Is God working in my life? Am I as valuable (to God, to the church) as married people? Does God love me as much as he loves married people? Does God have good things in store for me as a single person?”
In an environment that values marriage and family over singleness (and service — as a 33-year-old single woman, I can attest that many churches would not run well if it were not for single ladies taking on ministry), the conflicting message that single people should just be content with an eschatological wedding rings hollow. Sure that might be a theological reality, but it’s pretty difficult to live there when you come home to an empty apartment or don’t have an emergency contact person. And sure, the church is meant to provide community so that single people aren’t truly alone. It’s still not the same.
But compounding incomplete teaching on marriage and singleness is the real threat that relationships and love can become an idol. How do you discern between the genuine lament that it’s not good for humanity to be alone and the lie that you will never have a happy life unless you are married or in some kind of earth-shattering romance?
I think it’s interesting, at this point in culture to consider that eschatological wedding.
In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes about singleness being a preferred way of life, because it allows a Christian to devote all their time and energy to serving and knowing God.
Why? Because that gets you holiness points? No. Because the reality that the people of God are the Bride of Christ is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. Like the Kingdom, it’s now (and not yet). We are chosen by God. Our names are graven on the hands of the Divine. God has a secret name for you that only you and God will know. All Christians — whether married or single — are invited to be present in this relationship and enjoy it now. It’s just a lot easier to do when you’re single.
And there are a lot of benefits. There is no relationship that can exist on earth that is perfect and eternally permanent, except a relationship with God. God is perfect in love, faithfulness, and holiness. God has promised that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. After having experienced some astounding heartbreaks, this is both extremely comforting and attractive.
We are invited into this relationship, not only for our benefit, but for others. Soren Kierkegaard famously wrote that sin is disordered love. The greatest commandment is that we love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. The second requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we love God (in our admittedly limited and broken way) with all of our being, we also experience God loving us back with all of God’s being. That’s what we were made for. We were not made for loving our neighbors with all of our hearts, souls, and minds — and we cannot demand that in return. That kind of soul-filling love that we long for can’t come from another human. But it can come from a God who loves perfectly.
And in return, that allows us to have healthy relationships with other people — whether they’re significant others or spouses, friends, neighbors, or colleagues — because we are filled to the fullness of God’s love already. We can appreciate the love we have in those relationships and not be disappointed, because God doesn’t disappoint. And we can try to love them as graciously and fully as God does, but also know that when we fail, God does not.
Please don’t construe this as a cheerful “let Jesus be your Valentine” message (because, again … icky). Jesus is not our boyfriend. The relationship that God offers us through Christ is far more serious, far more perfect, and far more satisfying than mere “dating.” There’s a reason why there’s a “wedding feast of the Lamb” in Revelation. This is not a spiritual fling. This is the real deal.
Instead, this Valentine’s Day let’s all — whether we have a Valentine or not — fix our eyes on Christ. There you see Someone who died single and childless so that nothing could ever separate us from God’s love.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Juliet Vedral is Press Secretary for Sojourners.
Image: Valentine's Day image, nito / Shutterstock.com