Saturday, May 14, 2011

Singlehood (Part 1)

I was reading the absolutely beautiful book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris this Shabbat. Joshua is a sincere Christian and his words are really beautiful. I was very touched by his book. It occurred to me that I wish he was the author of books for the Jewish world rather than the Gila Manolson type. His book addresses the topics of yichud, tznius and shomer negiahin a really loving, relatable way. He comes across as your companion, in the same situations that you are in, rather than an authority figure.

The part that I found most touching was his description of singlehood within Christianity. I think Orthodox Judaism is missing a conception of singlehood. Currently, most women are under the impression their job is to go to college, graduate and then get married. We lack a sense of purpose in our singlehood. Our focus is on dating, shidduchim and our future family. I think that focus, while good, is sometimes misdirected. Here are Joshua's words to shed light on a conception of singlehood we would do well to emulate within our community.



In today's world we don't readily accept the concept of delayed gratification. Our culture teaches us that if something is good, we should seek to enjoy it immediately. So we microwave our food, e-mail our letters, and express mail our packages. We do our best to escape the confines of time by accelerating our schedules, speeding up our pace, and doing whatever it takes to beat the clock. You probably know exactly what I mean. How did you respond the last time you had to wait in line for something? Did you patiently wait your turn, or did you tap your toe and try to rush the experience?

Our "do it all now" mentality has tremendously affected the timing of today's dating relationships. We see this in headlines about kids having sex at an increasingly young age. As young people rush prematurely into these activities that God has reserved for marriage, most of their elders do little to correct them. After all, what can adults say when they live by the same attitude?

Why do we insist on living this way? In my opinion, part of the reason we've adopted the immediate gratificatiion mentality is because we've lost sight of the biblical principle of seasons (see Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Just as spring's role is different from that of fall, so each of the seasons of our lives has a different emphasis, focus, and beauty. One is not better than another; each season yields its own unique treasures. We cannot skip ahead to experience the riches of another life season any more than a farmer can rush the spring. Each season builds on the one before it.

God has many wonderful experiences He wants to give to us, but He also assigns these experiences to particular seasons of our lives. We often make the mistake, however, of taking a good thing out of its appropriate season to enjoy it when we want it. Premarital sex is a prime example of this. sex in itself is a wonderful experience (from what my married friends tell me), but if we indulge in it outside of God's plan, we sin (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Like a fruit picked green or a flower picked before it blossoms, our attempts to rush God's timing can spoil the beauty of His plan for our lives.

Just because something is good doesn't mean we should pursue it right now. We have to remember that the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.


Most of us won't remain single for our entire lives, and I think that we should view our singleness as a special season of our lives, a gift from God. God gives an outline for the proper attitude towards singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:32. The Message translation reads:
    I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you're unmarried, you're free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend on becoming...holy instruments of God.
Paul doesn't say this to put marriage down. He says it to encourage us to view singleness as a gift. God doesn't use our singleness to punish us. He has created this season as an unparalleled opportunity for undistracted devotion to God. And as a time for growth and service that we shouldn't take for granted or allow to slip by.

One person rightly stated, "Don't do something about your singlehood- do something with it!" Stop for just a minute and evaluate whether you're using God's gift of singleness as He desires. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I concentrating on "simply pleasing the Master?"
  • Am I using this season of my life to become a "holy" instrument for God?
  • Or am I scrambling to find a romantic relationship with someone by dating?
  • Am I failing to believe that God is sovereign over this part of my life and can provide for me?
  • Could I possibly be throwing away the gift of singleness?
  • Am I cluttering my life with needless complications and worries of dating?
While we're single, dating not only keeps us from preparing for marriage, but can also quite possibly rob us of the gift of singleness. Dating can tie us down in a series of pseudo relationships, but God wants us to maximize our freedom and flexibility to serve Him. Any season of singleness, whether you're sixteen or fifty-six, is a gift. You just might do God a disservice by wasting its potential on a lifestyle of short-term dating.

~pages 77-80


I wish I would have read Joshua's words before I met Heshy. I think my approach to my gift of singlehood would have been entirely different. If I had stopped to consider my single status as a gift from God that would enable me to work on myself, my responsibilities and minister in a way that I would not be able to do once married, I would have been much more fulfilled and happy. Instead, I wasted a lot of time pining and being sad and worried that no one would ever marry me.

Let's create an ethic of seeing singlehood as a gift from God, with every stage of life, including marriage, occurring in its proper season. A time for all things, as King Solomon says, including a time to be single.


inkstainedhands said...

I wish more people would read that -- and not only single people, but the married ones who look at us incredulously when we say that we're actually not upset that we're single. So many married people have tried making me feel like being single is the biggest tragedy and that my main goal should be getting married. I think it's equally important to first figure out who you are and where you're going in life, and I don't like this whole rush to get people married off to each other before they've even had a chance to get to know themselves.

frum single female said...

this sounds like a good book. i plan on reading it. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

How old is the author? Beautiful post, I quite agree

Primum Non Nocere said...

Be sure to also check out his sequel to "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", "Boy Meets Girl" about how to proceed when you are ready for marriage and to start dating. I was also blown away by the way that he arrives at the concepts of shomer negiah and yichud on his own and how logically and clearly he explains the benefits to them. I've shared his books with countless friends, and as long as you don't mind skipping lots of New Testament quotations, you'll find them a worthwhile read.

Josh said...

For another book that discusses Christian dating, you might want to read "The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University" by Kevin Roose. It's about his semester at Liberty University.

Shades of Gray said...

"His book addresses the topics of yichud, tznius and shomer negiah in a really loving, relatable way. He comes across as your companion, in the same situations that you are in, rather than an authority figure."

There might be something for dealing with these topics in terms of psychology combined with Torah sources. I saw this point in a recent article(linked below):

"Other schools set clearer boundaries for students. Rabbi Dov Linzer, dean of the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, said that the faculty recognizes the challenge of observing halachic sexual prohibitions, and has students study with sex therapists and psychiatrists in addition to rabbis. Even so, Linzer added that a student who engages in premarital sex “cannot continue at the yeshiva.”

“We’re sensitive to the challenges that these things represent,” Linzer said. “At the time of the Talmud, most people were married at the time of 14 or 16.”

smb said...

I believe that whatever situation we are in, we are meant to be in. If we are single at the moment, then that is our purpose at the moment. Once we do what we need to do, then we move to the next purpose which is marriage.

While we are single, we should get the most out of life during this time. Learn and grow. And feel good we used the time wisely

Moshe said...

Do you think you would have waited longer to get married? Had you understood this about singlehood and met Heshy, what would you have done: gotten married as quickly as you did or waited?

Woodrow/Conservadox said...

Isn't there a slippery slope problem here? That is, if you think of singleness as a time to focus on plesaing God, why bother to end it? Or do anything (like dating) that might end it?

Also, I worry that the whole argument flows out of the Christian idea that celibacy really is a good thing.

Italia said...

There is a common deception that Joshua Harris is against dating! this is not the case. Granted the title of the book implies it and turns some readers off, there is a fear of condemnation about their current relaationship. But actually it reinforces the conclusion I have come to about dating 'dont date unless you are ready for commitment.