Why do people seem to value married couples over singles? Is being single really a calling?
We speak to 4 Christian singles to hear what they had to say:
- Isaac Ong, 33, Church Youth Worker, Singer-Songwriter, Founder of Colours Global
- Pamela Koh, 40, Lead Counsellor of ThriveSg (Cru Singapore)
- Corinne Teo, 54, Church Pastoral Staff (Singles)
- Dr Florence Tan, 73, Retired Bible College Lecturer, Cell Group Overseer and Mentor
Many of these responses were adapted from an episode of Salt & Light Family Night earlier this year, where a panel of speakers offered tips on a range of topics, from the sexual temptations they face to how one can flourish as a single.
WHAT STRUGGLES DO SINGLES FACE?
For Isaac, one of the reasons why singlehood is tough is because we’re living in a culture that celebrates getting into a relationship more often than being single.
As such, there are many moments where one feels the weight of singleness, such as during holiday seasons when people generally spend time with their significant other, he shared.
“For me, as someone in my 30s — and even when I was in my 20s — having to walk that journey is really hard because I feel like I’m living in a 24/7 Chinese New Year reunion dinner moment all the time,” said Isaac, referring to the many well-intentioned questions of when he is going to get married.
“Not to say we shouldn’t do that anymore because there is a beautiful thing about marriage and relationships.”
“It’s about how do we also celebrate singleness, but not from a place of consolation?” Isaac continued, giving an example of how such comments can come across. “Sometimes people will say, ‘You’re single? It’s okay lah, you go and do God’s work.”
His conclusion? Perhaps we don’t really know how to celebrate singlehood.
In Pamela’s life, her struggles with singleness were most acute after returning from Japan, where she served as a missionary for six years.
“Coming back to Singapore around my early 30s was really tough for me,” she recalled. “When I came back, my friends were in different seasons of life. Many of them had gotten married and had children.”
The loneliness that one experiences is real, confessed Pamela.
“It has been a journey for me to get to this place where I feel fulfilled and satisfied in my singlehood; I didn’t get here overnight. There was a season in my life where I struggled.”
She understands society’s emphasis on supporting families because of how challenging and complex marriage and parenting can be. But Pamela can’t help but feel that sometimes “the needs of singles do tend to get overlooked or neglected”.
Compared to married couples or families with children, singles may appear to lead less complicated lives or have more time to serve in church.
However, singles have different needs at different stages of their lives too, she highlighted.
This was also a point raised by Corinne.
While she acknowledged that the struggles of singles are not exclusive, many are saddled with the role of being the caregiver to their elderly parents. Singles also cope alone with ageing and debilitating conditions.
To help singles feel more supported in church, Pamela suggested that families could be more mindful about inviting singles to join their activities or gatherings.
On the topic of church events, Corinne, who is also her church’s Singles’ Ministry coordinator, observed: “The Church celebrates Father’s and Mother’s Day. We also have Marriage Preparation, Marriage Enrichment and Parenting Retreats, as well as Father-Daughter and Mother-Son Dates and Family Camp…
“How about Singles’ Retreats and Workshops, or Singles’ Book Study?”
Corinne recounted: “Once I was asked by a married friend why I hadn’t registered to take part in a Family Day church event. ‘Because I don’t have a family as I am single,’ was my reply. The response from my married friend was ‘church family lah’.”
However, when she did participate in the Family Day event, Corinne found that mingling was challenging.
“I wasn’t always able to find another single to hang out with, so at times I would hang out with the married couples.”
HOW ABOUT SEXUAL TEMPTATION?
Another common struggle that singles have to cope with is in the area of sexual desires.
Opening up about his journey, Isaac disclosed that it was extremely difficult to deal with that, especially in his 20s.
But he doesn’t believe that this is just a problem faced by singles, adding that the healing and wholeness of one’s desires is not made complete simply because you have a spouse.
In fact, Isaac shared candidly that it was only when he was around 29 or 30 years old that he began to have a healthier perspective towards sexual intimacy.
Instead of allowing social media to shape his views, he finally reached a point where he could see the place that sexual drive has in our lives, “where it is beautiful, not ugly; where it is love, not lustful”.
“It came with a lot of crying, failing, messing up, wondering, asking and saying, “Lord, I need to see things through your eyes and your lens,” he revealed.
Giving an example of how he sets up accountability structures, Isaac said he has two to three people who know everything about him and whom he trusts to check in on him and keep walking with him.
Pamela, too, pointed out the need to surround yourself with a loving community and to take the initiative to reach out for support.
“The thing about shame and guilt is that what is kept in the dark will give Satan more power over it. So to overcome that shame and guilt when we fall, we need to have people we can go to and say that we’ve fallen,” she emphasised.
“When you bring it out into the light then Satan doesn’t have power over it, and God is able to come in and minister to you and minister His forgiveness.”
It’s also helpful to know ourselves well so that we can avoid falling into sin, said Pamela.
“What are my triggers? Like, do I know that when I’m tired is when I’m most vulnerable to temptation? If you’re able to be more aware of your vulnerabilities and temptation, then you could have a plan,” she added.
“For example, if I know that this has been a tiring week, then this weekend I could meet up with a friend to have good, quality time and make sure I have somebody who is checking in on me to have quality conversations.”
AM I CALLED TO BE SINGLE?
Does God make a mistake when I have been single all these years? How come I am not married?
These are all very natural questions that singles battle with, said Dr Florence.
“Basically, my attitude is that I can really trust God. How? Why? Because He loves me,” she affirmed.
“And because He loves me, He makes no mistakes with regard to something that is so important in life, which is marriage and that most important person whom I would be spending the rest of my life with.”
As for those wondering if it’s God will for them to remain single, Dr Florence had this advice.
“It’s not so much deciding whether God’s will is for me to get married, and then working along those lines. It’s just to come to God with an open hand. With all that sincerity and good conscience, God will surely show and be very clear,” she explained.
In other words, as you enter into a relationship with God and trust Him to lead you, as well as take time to get to know someone you’re considering to spend the rest of your life with, you will naturally gain clarity on such an important decision as marriage.
“How would I arrive at the answer to know God’s will?” asked Dr Florence rhetorically.
“It would be through His Word, and in the presence of wise counsel and mature input. That would go a long way to really help me discern what God’s will is.”
As a single in her mid-50s, Corinne tells us that she has come to terms with her singlehood and has made plans accordingly, such as getting her own flat.
When questioned if she felt that being single was her calling, Corinne said: “I would say that I’m single by circumstance.
“Before I knew the Lord, singleness was a bane because all my peers had gotten hitched and became mothers. I yearned for a spouse and craved a family, so I dated recklessly. Essentially my dissatisfaction in my singleness had to do with wanting what others had.”
But Corinne clarified that all that changed when she got to know Christ in her 30s.
“Singleness became a gift,” she said. “I was glad that I hadn’t married, or else I would be preoccupied with family and probably wouldn’t have entered into full-time ministry.”
“Where once I floundered in singleness without God, I would say I have come to the point of accepting my singleness and flourishing in it with God because I have learnt to focus on what I have and not what I do not have.”
For instance, Corinne is grateful that she recently became a grandaunt, a role that she cherishes.
“I can experience vicariously the joy of mothering by being close to my niece who is like a daughter to me, and watching her grow to adulthood and motherhood,” she shared with excitement.
HOW DO YOU FLOURISH AS A SINGLE?
The other speakers also discussed what it means to shine as a single.
Like Corinne, Dr Florence has come to treasure such parenting opportunities despite not having her own kids.
“I have more than five godchildren and more than three god-grandchildren… and I thoroughly enjoy it,” she beamed. “So that’s my alternative, practically speaking.”
She also encouraged singles to find ways to get involved with family life, especially if one has a strong desire to be married.
“Have a taste about what it’s all about, in preparation for marriage life,” she said. This could be as simple as babysitting when a couple goes out or learning how to cook a decent meal.
“We are not ¾ or half when we are still single, but one is a whole number.”
While Dr Florence continues to be open to marriage at the age of 73, this is how she describes her mindset.
“I am not living my life for the point of marriage. If the Lord wants me to get married, He’ll give me a guy with whom I’ll fall in love so hard, that I will end up getting married.”
As for now, Dr Florence remains focused on seeking the Lord while celebrating her singlehood. Throughout the different seasons of her life, this is the one verse that she clings on to.
“The way that God has made us — we are complete. We are not ¾ or half when we are still single, but one is a whole number,” she declared.
Besides developing our relationship with God, Pamela underscored that the most important relationship we also need to cultivate is the one with ourselves.
“You are with yourself 24/7, but if you don’t really like yourself, or if you are hard on yourself, you hate yourself or you are critical about yourself, then it’s going to make the journey of being single even harder because you won’t enjoy being with yourself very much,” she said.
Personally, the healing work in Pamela’s life was ignited because of counselling.
“One of the greatest gifts I got out of my whole counselling journey is the gift of learning to love and accept myself just as God loves and accepts me,” she shared.
Taking up hobbies that are nourishing for one’s soul can also be helpful for self-care.
“I like to do paint by numbers, and I recently picked up gardening during the pandemic,” said Pamela.
However, she also added a word of caution.
“It can be good things, like serving God, or having lots of hobbies or socials. Even then, I think we have to be very careful because sometimes when we pack our schedules with things, we may not actually be meeting our needs,” warned Pamela.
“Instead, we are coping with the loneliness or numbing that loneliness through busyness.”
For Isaac, he shared that to flourish is to really keep his eyes on the prize and go: “Lord, it is you that I truly desire and it is You who makes me whole.”
At the same time, it is also about being authentic in saying: “Lord, I still have this desire for marriage. I still have the desire to get together with somebody. But Lord, I’m going to trust you for that.”
Admitting that the journey of wrestling has actually brought him into deeper fellowship with God, he admitted: “You have no idea how many prayers actually don’t start with ‘Dear Jesus’. It starts with ‘Lord!’ and just weeping and weeping.
“And sometimes, it doesn’t end with ‘Amen’. It just ends with you on the bed and going, ‘Aiyah, I don’t know lah God.'”
Looking back, he reflected on how this struggle was especially tough in his 20s, but how he has entered a good season now that he is in his 30s.
“I think the revelation that I got was that I may have idolised something so much and so hard that it began to hurt,” he said.
“Right now at this age, I’m still desiring for marriage. I still long for it. But it’s no longer paralysing, and I’ve come to a place that if it doesn’t happen, I’m at peace.”
Offering encouragement to other singles, Corinne concluded: “You are not alone. God has not forgotten you.
“Get out there and mix and mingle. Ask God for projects to do and people to show God’s love to in His Name.
“Make the most of your singleness. Life in God is especially spectacular as a single only if we dive fully into God’s goodness and love.”
– Additional reporting by Justine Ocampo
Interested to hear more? Check out the full video for the Salt&Light Family Night here:
- What do you struggle with the most as a single?
- Are there things you may have idolised as a single? What can you surrender to the Lord today?
- How can you reach out to your Christian community for support?