Throwing Down the Idols of Marriage, Singleness, or Parenthood

Relationships are usually complicated. And the church has usually idolized one particular relationship status to the detriment of another. It’s time to throw down the idols of marriage, singleness, or parenthood.

Some single people want to be married and are looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right. And there are many married people who would be happy to give him/her to you! And there are married people (or singles) wrestling with whether or not to have children. Know this; marriage is hard. Singleness is hard. Parenting is hard. Just choose your hard!

Liliana, a young wife, feels a lot of pressure from extended family to have children. She’s not sure parenthood is right for her and her husband. And even more difficult, whenever she walks into church she faces the unspoken message that families with children are who the church is “for.” If that’s not you or you’re not moving in that direction, you’re not measuring up to what it means to be a Christian.

What about those who can’t have children? What about unhappily married people, or someone in a toxic marriage? If you feel no call to or desire for marriage, is that bad? Or what if you desire marriage but it’s not possible?

In recent podcast conversations I’ve talked with both married and single people about relationships, sexuality, and intimacy. We’ve talked about why God created sex and marriage, and what He created them for. We’ve talked about how the church can and must do better in addressing deeper heart challenges for people in any relationship status.

People in different relationship statuses tell me that when they hear about marriage, singleness, or parenting, they feel frustrated, discouraged, or like something is wrong if they don’t fit that particular scenario. So, let’s address what God says about this.

God and Relationship Status

During its first 1500 years or so the Christian church saw the single celibate life of service as the highest form of spirituality. The Roman Catholic tradition still operates that way today. That changed with the Protestant Reformation, and for the last 500 years or so it would seem the highest form of spirituality would be to be married with children, especially in the Western evangelical church.

Both those beliefs are faulty. As usual, we humans tend to swing the pendulum too far in either direction. We tend to idolize anything God created as good, including singleness, marriage, or parenthood.

Among Jesus’ disciples, Peter was married; he had a mother-in-law. And Paul seems to indicate he was not married. Beyond that, we really don’t know for sure whether or not most of them were married or had children. If God didn’t define Jesus’ disciples by their relationship status, have we made too much of it in our world?

In the first century Mediterranean world sibling relationships were considered even closer than marital bonds (see Joseph Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family). That’s one reason the New Testament so frequently talks about the family of God. That’s what the body of Christ is supposed to be.

When feeling angst about your own relationship status this is important. God cares about this! But to God your identity is not wife, husband, parent, or single person. Those are secondary descriptors, not part of your identity. Or they shouldn’t be.

What About Scripture?

Does Scripture support this? YES. 1 Corinthians 7 is rich and, for some, complicated. A partial summary of how I read that chapter; if you’re married, be faithful to your spouse and love them well and pursue intimacy together. If you want to be married, that’s just fine, though marriage will bring troubles. If you’re not married, that’s just as good in God’s eyes, and provides more “space” for serving God in unique ways without certain anxieties. Whether single or married, serve God in the state you find yourself. “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).

Parenting is similar. Children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). AND, those without biological children can be even more fruitful (Isaiah 54:1). If you want children, you desire a good thing. If you don’t have or don’t want children, God can make you fruitful in even broader ways.

I’ve experienced many of these dynamics in my own life. I lived single until I was 48. During those years I learned to experience God as my Husband (Isaiah 54:5), and I learned to be happy single. During my years as a wife God blessed me in wonderful ways. Now that I’m living single again as a widow I can identify with both marrieds and singles uniquely. I don’t have biological children; I identify with that “lack.” I also have wonderful step-children. And I’ve been told by some who have been blessed in being connected to me that they experience me as a “mother in the Lord.” I’ve learned to truly enjoy and embrace whatever state I’m in, and leverage that to the glory of God.

What About Sex?

Sex is a big topic, and I talk a lot about that in many articles here. Did God intend every human being to experience sex in marriage? It’s clear throughout Scripture that in our present world the answer is No. Jesus, the most Fully Alive human being ever to walk this earth, never was married, never had sex. And He certainly fulfilled His purpose!

And so can you and I.

If you’re struggling with sexual issues, browse this blog; there are many articles on this topic. Or get our 5-Part Prescription for Sexual Healing – God’s Way.

If you’re married, pursue intimacy with your spouse, including sexual intimacy.

If you’re single, know that Jesus understands you – including your sex drive. He can become Enough. Pursue intimacy in healthy ways in the family of God.

Getting Rid of Idols

When anything takes a higher place than God Himself, it becomes an idol. We can make an idol out of even very good things, including the Bible, the church, Christian service, ministry, family, parenthood, singleness, or marriage.

I call on each of us, and on the body of Christ, to throw down our idols.

Marriage is not better.

Singleness is not better.

Parenthood is not better.

God’s goal for you is to become like Jesus (Romans 8:29). How you live that out is unique to you, and it’s between you and God. Before your own Master you will stand or fall (Romans 14:4).

When you hear the message, spoken or unspoken, that your desires or your relationship status is not quite “up to par” with being a “good” Christian, consider that to be an uninformed and distorted perception of God and His dealings with humans. Choose today, and keep choosing, to live fully into the relationship status God has called you to.

No more idols – of marriage, singleness, or parenthood.

Your Turn: Have you struggled with making idols of marriage, singleness, or parenthood? Have you felt jealous of someone in a different relationship status? What would it mean to serve God with your whole heart where you are right now?  Leave a comment below.

Want More? In this week’s podcast episode Dr. Carol discusses right-sizing relationship status and getting rid of the idols of marriage, singleness, or parenthood. Listen or watch here.

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