When I served in youth ministry I couldn’t stand being asked about my dating life. It didn’t matter who was asking—parent, student, fellow church staff—I didn’t want to be asked. But it was always hardest when a student asked. At the time, I pushed the discomfort away when students inquired, telling myself that I was uncomfortable because they were trying to cross inappropriate boundaries, or that it was inappropriate for me to engage in conversations about dating with them. They were in high school, and I was an adult. My dating life, or lack thereof, was personal.
But, looking back, I see none of my excuses for keeping this part of my life private were true. Yes, there are always topics you draw boundaries on when talking with anyone—not just students. I can honestly say that whether or not I am dating someone is not one of those topics. And I know this because if I had been dating someone, I would not have been afraid to tell my students.
The reason my students’ questions made me the most uncomfortable is because they were the most honest, forcing me to consider a reality I did not want to be true, a painful part of my life that I didn’t want to let them see into. I myself was afraid to honestly look at the story God was weaving for my life, and I most certainly did not want my students to look at it. If they did, they might see my insecurity, brokenness, and pain. And by running from these conversations, I missed a beautiful opportunity to cling to and share the truth of the gospel with younger sisters in Christ who someday too, will walk through singleness.
There are three truths I’ve learned about singleness that I wish I had shared more honestly with my students:
1. Being single is not your identity.
In a world that often revolves around sexuality, it seems ever more pressing to be in a romantic relationship with someone. Though marriage is a beautiful representation of God’s relationship with us, walking with the Lord in singleness is a beautiful representation of Heaven – where our longings for relationship will forever be fulfilled through our union with God. Paul affirms the value of singleness in 1 Corinthians 7, exhorting married people to remain married and single people to remain single unless they burn with passion to be married to another. I worry that I often place too much value on marriage, rather than surrendering my life to the Lord and daily being present to whatever He puts before me. Right now, He has called me to singleness. He may someday call me to marriage, but I would do well to stop living with this as an exalted expectation. Our identity is grounded in the truth that we are beloved sons and daughters of the risen king, our worth forever coming from Him, whether we are married or not.
2. Marriage is not the gold standard.
I do not wish to belittle the struggles of doubt, loneliness, and insecurity that often come with singleness. Throughout my twenties, I have felt pressured to get married as if I have yet to come into the fullness of my worth until I do so. I’ve fallen prey to the lies that say, “I am not worthy of pursuit” or “I am not delightful.” Yet in my singleness, I have been given the opportunity to reclaim the truth about who I am in Christ.
In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen writes, “For a very long time I considered low self-esteem to be some kind of virtue. I had been warned so often against pride and conceit that I came to consider it a good thing to deprecate myself. But now I realize that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me, to ignore my original goodness. Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on the destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father.”
In Christ we are beloved. In Christ we are redeemed. In Christ we are set free. We are worthy of the utmost delight because Christ lives in us. We have been pursued by the most loving husband, a man who was willing to die in our stead. How I wish I could return to the insecurity I felt when students asked me about dating and offer them this rich hope instead. By living insecurely, awaiting an earthly marriage that may or may not come, I often blinded myself from the truth that I am indeed, already worthy, loved, and whole.
3. Embrace the truth of God’s story.
At the core of my struggle was an unwillingness to embrace the reality and beauty of God’s story for my life. In my pride, I can often think I know what I need and when I need it; however, through His patient kindness, God has shown me that His ways are higher than my own. His promises are true and the hope we have received is a gift to share with our students, who may also be asking questions like, “Am I loved?” and “Am I worthy of pursuit?” Rather than offering our students the cheap hope of a “someday the right one will come” relationship, we can instead offer them the greatest gift of love ever to be attained through the gospel. God cares uniquely for you and each one of your students and is faithful in the story He is writing for both yours and their lives. By embracing the truth about who we are and who God is, we are set free to live in the fullness and richness of our intended being.
This is the sixth article in our series, “The Phases of Youth Ministry,” in which we explore the blessings and challenges of ministering to students during various seasons of life. Read past articles in this series here.