Pastor Raúl Castro Fraguela
When we venture into conversations about getting married, we touch our souls. We must be wise to move cautiously, listen carefully, and resist the urge to generalize or assume that our experience is an excellent example of what everyone else’s longings and struggles are. As I write this article, I do so not primarily as a married man but as a pastor who sits down to talk to people about this subject’s broad spectrum. As we have these conversations, I discover how similar we are and how our desires and sufferings are problems we have in common. A single man resents the fact—in his opinion—that his friends quickly found love and marriage.
Two painful ruptures have left him reeling, and although he wishes it were not, envy and hopelessness are lurking in his heart. Similarly, a married woman with a successful career and a lovely family recognizes that she has never felt alone. She believes that her marriage is sentenced to live without love and in isolation. It is good that we remember that loneliness, struggles, and frustrations afflict us all and that we are not the exclusive experience of any social group. In the same way, joy can reach us from any angle. I know women who can feel grateful and satisfied with their lives. Being happy without having a husband and not feeling that happiness depends on a bridal march. They can appreciate the freedom they have to give their time and resources to the people they love and the work they value.
Several years ago, a couple vowed to love each other for the rest of their days. In the decades since then, they raised four children, worried about saving up to pay for college, and again and again renewed their promise of love. Although life has placed many demands on them, they could not be more grateful for the things God has given them. Therefore, neither being single nor married defines a good life. There are a thousand ways to be happy in this world. The grace and hardships of life are divided by a single-married line. For some reason, we segment ourselves in ways that perpetuate the false idea that the two categories are different as if we were on other planets.
But the truth is that what unites us is much bigger and more profound than what separates us. Our frustrated desires and bursts of joy are not the result of our marital status but our human condition. We all know the anguish, and thanks to our merciful God, we receive blessings. Each of us wants friendship and companionship. Each of us can be sure that we have fragmented ideals. It will tempt each of us to seek love and meaning outside of God. Each of us receives the grace to sustain ourselves amid the bumpy stretches of our lives. And each of us will find God’s immense goodness and experience the beauty of love. The good news is that our most essential reality is not our civil condition but rather our life in God. As Colossus us 1.16 reminds us, we were all “created through him and for him.” When God is our center, all other identities or differences are subordinated to it.
Given these truths, it is crucial that we first define ourselves as “the church” rather than “married” or “single.” After all, our primary identity depends not on a marriage ring but on our Christianity. Our culture, obsessed with establishing separations and focusing its attention on our short-sighted experiences, must listen to the church’s witness: We are one in Christ, the body of Jesus. In the church, God welcomes us to the new community. God has united us, and what God joined, that man should not separate him. With our shared identity and our everyday struggles, it should be clear that no one has a monopoly on Christian virtue. Both singles and married must live fully for the glory of God, amid the particular details of the days given to us.
In obedience to the Lord Jesus, we must give our lives for our brethren. The theologian Stanley Hauerwas says this very well: “We do not love because we are married, but because we are Christians.” While conjugal love gives us a perspective on God’s goodness, and the love of singles gives us another. Both attachments find their origin in God; both visibly demonstrate God’s merciful attitude. Although we have not lived this truth well, Scripture teaches us that the body of Christ needs both married and single couples to show the new nature of God’s community. Single and married need each other to express the breadth of God’s kingdom. Each represents a way to go after the same end: life with God and dedication to his purposes in the world. The soltería exemplifies God’s love by consecrating our passion, energies, and gifts to the “cause of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12).
Today, the soltería is underrated. This is a strange turn of events because he sometimes went to the other end in the early centuries of the church and treated marriage as something second class. There doesn’t have to be a spiritual hierarchy. Both the Lord Jesus and Paul expressed appreciation for both solitary and marriage, confirming that they were desirable vocations. But in a culture that takes the importance of marriage for granted, we need to give preference to our other gifts. A single person may have the ability to live a simpler life, devote time to a more significant number of people, or be present in broader spheres. Also, a single person has the unique opportunity to teach us how to resist the idolatry concept that marriage (or any reality other than God) will give us a perfect life.
Of course, many singles remain unmarried for a while and do not have a lifetime calling to follow Jesus in that state. However, during this time phase, singles allow us to see grace in action. When the single person is not concerned about his future but is confident that God has his life in his hands, we, too, are challenged to entrust our doubts to Him. When singles give their resources and energies and guide us in generosity and simplicity, we hear God calling us to unite with them in this courageous faith. And all of us, single or married, can receive from the church the gift of the family, reminding us that our first identity is in the way that the Holy Spirit unites us. We are God’s people, single and married. We are partners in the kingdom of God.