I’ve added many additional points to the initial conversation, and consequently these posts are rather lengthy. Probably won’t be writing about the topic for awhile after this series!
Individual growth and growing in godliness
1. In singleness – the argument here is that singleness is an ideal time to focus on addressing individual weaknesses and grow in godliness, without perhaps affecting another person by your own sinfulness. I guess it works the other way too, that you can focus on doing these things without being burdened by the other person’s issues.
Relationships take effort to build and maintain. Seeing each other in person, working out a time to talk over the phone, telling another person about your life, or trying to understand what is going on in theirs, getting along despite each other’s idiosyncrasies, adjusting your own lifestyle or habits to match the other – these are just a few of the many time and energy consuming activities involved. Likely, singleness does bring about more personal space and time but I suppose one could use this time in truly drawing near to God, in understanding his word and prayer, in seeking to be more like Christ, or simply in finding more time to procrastinate and engage in equally unfruitful pursuits. Unfortunately, maybe sometimes I do more of the latter than the former.
Aside from the time and energy factor, singleness also affords more freedom in deciding where to live, which career paths to pursue, what areas of ministry to serve in. If being in a relationship narrows the feasible options, having a family, especially when children are involved, would surely limit these options even more. However, if we desire to do so, we can do God’s work whether that is in the scope of a single person with more flexibility, or a married person with more commitments. I wonder though, if these complicating factors are the troubles in marriage that Paul speaks about:
But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. – 1 Corinthians 7:28
2. In relationship – as much as singleness gives room to pursue individual growth, the counter argument would be that having two imperfect people get along means opportunities for character building.
Whether it’s with family, housemates, classmates working in a group, colleagues on a common project, in relationships, or in marriage, our (and their) flaws become apparent by nature of the close proximity in which we have to interact with one another. I think it was in relationship, more than any other social situations, where I saw how hard it was to love, to say sorry, and to forgive knowing that we have received forgiveness from God. In no other social situation would I have been ever so aware of my quick temper and sharp tongue that was truly unruly and lit many fires. How often, did I consider these verses and came to truly know that I needed God’s grace to be able to have these fruits:
“In your anger do not sin” : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry… – Ephesians 4:26
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23
Yet, being challenged can help us to grow in godliness, in the image of God, if that is what we seek to do. And the motivation is definitely there when you know that your sins do not only hurt yourself, but someone close to you too.
With the other aspect of personal growth, it’s important to prayerfully consider where we are heading in those same areas in singleness and in relationship. I realised in the first years of university that this is especially important early on in a relationship, as it’s easy to want to do everything together and make plans according to the other person, without spending enough time developing your own interests or social circles, and without considering humbly before God where your life is heading. Both individuals need space to figure these things out. But maybe this is less of an issue when you’re older. The difference in marriage is that in the end, your aspirations do need to line up with the other person’s. Line up as in, really line up, in where our priorities and loyalties lie, whether that is to God, or to other gods, including the treasures of this world.