“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’” (Genesis 2:18)
Let’s admit it guys, being single can be fun. Outside of work, we pretty much get to do what we want, when we want, without anybody telling us otherwise (unless they’re the sorts of things that interest Johnny Law or our confessor). Outside work, there’s no one that we’re really responsible to and no one who depends on us for anything.
Many single guys just fist-pumped, “FREEDOM!” Pretty sweet, huh? Well, I’m here to tell you that being single can actually be (wait for it…) emasculating. OUCH! Yes, in a very real sense, being single* makes it more difficult for a man to truly live out his calling as a man, which is to lay down his life for those he loves (spiritually and figuratively always, physically if necessary).
And therein lies the challenge of being single: there is precious little demand for sacrifice and self-denial. It can be a very selfish life. Speaking for myself, I have no need to deny myself of anything outside work, (within the confines of law, morality, and finances of course). Who wants to deny themselves you ask? I do. You do. Because a selfish man (or woman for that matter) cannot grow spiritually and cannot be a true follower of Jesus, who commanded:
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
I obviously can’t speak knowingly about marriage, but I think this is where I think married men have the advantage over us single guys. As I’ve learned from both married men and women (and saw in my own parents), marriage (especially in families with kids) demands daily sacrifice in large and small ways. A husband cannot spend every night out with the guys or doing all the things he did as a single man because he is responsible to his wife who depends on him and wants him to actually be in a relationship with her, you know, in person and stuff. Without the unique checks and balances that a relationship provides, there’s a tendency (at least in men, or at least in this man) toward being a slave to our whims, desires, vices, and bad habits—i.e., a slave to sin. More importantly, though, we miss out on all those wonderful opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth that can only come when we deny ourselves for love of another, especially love of a woman.
Taking it a step further, the mission of a man—the mission stamped right into our hearts and souls—is to honor, protect, and defend our bride. While it is true, as Pope Saint John Paul the Great said, “It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman,” I think a man sees this calling most instinctively and strongly toward his bride. Men instinctively hear the call of Saint Paul:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25–27)
What man—deep in his heart and soul—isn’t drawn to that ideal, even as we (because of our brokenness in sin) struggle to fully live it?
Paul is talking about sacrifice. There’s no room in Ephesians 5 for selfishness. Without sacrifice and self-denial, there is no growth. We sacrifice our time and money to go to school and learn. We cut back on tasty junk food to stay healthy. We inflict physical pain on ourselves in the gym to get stronger (well, um, some guys do). These are all sacrifices we make to grow stronger in some area of our lives. Growing spiritually is no different.
So what’s a single guy to do? We can create opportunities for self-denial and sacrifice, to build relationships where we are responsible to others. Work is a clear avenue here, but we need it in our personal lives too. A great option is to verbally commit time and energy to someone or some cause. Sign up for a responsible role in a ministry at church. Tell a charity that you’ll commit time to them. Whatever. The important thing is to promise yourself to another so they depend on you for something and so that not fulfilling your commitment will cause some discomfort or inconvenience for them. In other words, there needs to be consequences to our not living up to our commitment.
We can also create opportunities to practice personal sacrifice. This is much harder because there’s usually no external accountability. Because of that, though, it helps build self-mastery, which is essential to self-denial and sacrifice. This is something I struggle mightily with, but I know it’s something I need to do. My friend Arleen Spenceley (@ArleenSpenceley) once wrote in her Life in the Gap Profile about year-long challenges she gives herself during her single life. She gives up something she likes for a year to aid her spiritual growth because, “following Jesus always requires self-denial.”
You know what? I’m in! I decided to take up this challenge from Arleen and make my own personal sacrifice (granted, a bit late in the year, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere). Want to know what I decided to do? I guess you’ll have to wait for that, now, don’t you? I think they call that a “tease” in The Biz.
* When I talk about single men, I do not include ordained men or consecrated celibates because their bride is the church.
Image: “Watching Spun” by moominsean / https://flic.kr/p/5CT6zN