Singles at the Crossroads: Part III – the myth of the gift of singleness

I was just wondering what’s so different about this relationships book compared to the others promoted in my circle. And the answer was all too clear: it’s one plainly about singleness, not about preparing or waiting for a relationship/marriage and what to do in a relationship. I have felt specially compelled to examine the complexities of the singleness issue as I get involved in the single sisters support group planning. I mean, look at our church adults sisters: good, attractive, and godly women! Why are so many still single? I still remember my five-person discussion group all raised their hands when I asked ‘who wants to be married?’ And the more I think about it, the more problems I see: the fewer-marriageable-men-than-women-in-church phenomenon (and I’m not taking about my church but Christendom in general); agony over God’s will of singleness or marriage for the individual; passivity and ‘God is my matchmaker’ mindset, etc. I’m glad that this book provoked me to consider these issues and to form my own convictions as I read and think.

So I came to the highly-anticipated chapter on the Myth of the Gift, which Albert Hsu promised to debunk. And you know what? In short, Hsu simply concludes that singleness and marriage are gifts, but not spiritual gifts which serve particular functions, such as those in Romans 12. If you are single, you have the gift of singleness; if you are married, you have the gift of marriage, just as if you are alive, you have the gift of life, and if you are dead, well, you don’t! LOL! I think the simplicity of his answer will exasperate most readers. But that’s the problem: people probably picked up this book wanting to know if singleness and marriage are gifts and which is the one that they have. But if you know that you have the gift of singleness, would you then want a gift exchange?

The traditional view has it that if you enjoy singleness and don’t have problems controlling your sexual desire, you have the gift of singleness. Conversely, you don’t have the gift of singleness if you remain emotionally and sexually frustrated for good reason, or so it says.

The chapter lists seven problems of this traditional view:

1. The traditional view judges the gift of singleness merely by a subjective feeling.

Regardless of feelings, you are still single whether you don’t feel that you have the gift or really don’t want the gift of singleness. And moreover, feelings change. If a married suddenly feels that singleness is better a few years after marriage, does that justify a divorce?

2. This view minimises the reality of temptation

God doesn’t miraculously remove sexual temptations for the ‘gifted’ single. Did Paul, who said that he had the gift of singleness, ever suggest that he had no struggles with temptation? What about Jesus, who ‘has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin’ (Heb 4:15b)?

3. This view creates an artificial two-tier class system of singles

‘If some singles have received a supernatural gift that enables them to live celibate lives, then by definition other singles have not. In other words, God has equipped some singles to live the single life effectively, but not all singles.’ This fallacy questions God’s enablement of His people. Just as there are no two tiers of marrieds of those who have the gift and those who don’t, there are no two tiers of singles, one with the supernatural gift and one without.

4. While seeming to exalt singleness, the traditional view actually demeans singleness

If singleness requires a special gift to cope, Hsu reckons that singleness must be horrible, a painful thing to endure. The inference is the idea that nobody would ever make a conscious choice to stay single if s/he had the opportunity to marry. Therefore, they must have some special gifting that makes them refuse the married state.

5. The idea of a gift of supernatural empowerment for singleness is unbiblical

Nowhere in Scripture does it say that the gift of singleness bestows some supernatural empowerment to live singly with no desire for marriage. Looking at the fact that Christian couples divorce just like the natural population, we can conclude that there’s no divine gift to enable couples embrace marriage as a lifetime commitment. If such a gift is not available for married people, should a similar gift be expected for singles?

6. The traditional view confuses the gift of singleness with a healthy self-identity

Your contentment with your socioeconomic status, physical appearance, and even the state of singlehood, does not serve as evidence for the gift of singleness. Instead, this is a sign of Christian maturity.

7. The traditional view is spiritually abusive

Someone who earnestly believes that he or she does not have the gift of singleness may still never marry. We may sincerely desire with our entire soul to be married, but circumstances may dictate that we never find someone suitable as a marriage partner. And the result can be doubt or resentment. Singles who have this flawed theology of singleness end up blaming God.

To conclude the summary of this chapter, if you are single now, you have the gift of singleness – it is descriptive, not restrictive. Whichever gift it is, we should do our best to be a good steward of that gift. “Both singlesness and marriage are gifts to be honoured and treasured. The task we have to face is the same, whether we are married or single: To live a fulfilled life in spite of many unfulfilled desires.”

This reminds me of something that I read in Elisabeth Elliot’s Quest for love. God doesn’t necessarily take away our unfulfilled desires. Yes, they hurt, but our hopes and dreams can serve as materials for sacrifice, committed to His high and holy purposes.

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One Response to Singles at the Crossroads: Part III – the myth of the gift of singleness

  1. sarahbux says:

    This philosophy regarding the “Gift of Singleness” is very interesting. I am intrigued to read this book. I had never even heard of it before. The primary reason I believe their is a spiritual gifting of singleness stems out of Matthew 19:11. Jesus very specifically declares that his following words are only intended for a given group. However, I do believe the “Gift of Singleness” is extremely over-emphasized and that there are many, many Christians who should remain single for life even if they clearly do NOT have the “Gift of Singleness”. I have more to say… but I think I will just write my own blog regarding the subject this week. Good post!

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