For evangelical Christians, conversations about singleness tend to be predictable. Whether it’s a sermon, a panel discussion, or a conference message, discussions are usually relegated to the topic of how this season can be escaped through dating or marriage. Singleness is often presented as a means to an end but rarely as a valuable end in itself.

Over time, this mindset has cultivated a shallow theology of singleness within the church. Our disproportionate focus on escape routes from singleness leaves us unable to convincingly portray the beauty of this season or provide a substantive balm for the difficulties it brings. Furthermore, we struggle to highlight and celebrate all that a single, celibate, and often childless life can teach us about the Christian journey.

In part, this is because our reading of Scripture has led us to elevate our call to physical fruitfulness over our baptismal identity. We have created a hierarchical relationship between marriage and singleness, with marriage holding the place of greater spiritual maturity and singleness the lesser. Married men and women often serve as the source of Christian wisdom for singles, but the single season is seldom lifted up as a source of wisdom for those who are married. This marriage status hierarchy shows up in singles’ conferences, which frequently feature married speakers, while conferences on marriage hardly ever include single speakers.

To effectively minister to a growing population of singles both young and old, we need to learn from those who have spent time thinking deeply about their experience with singleness. We need a conversation that centers their voices and provides a vision for how singleness is not merely a pathway to a better life but a destination at which one can flourish and thrive.

Anna Broadway pursues this goal in her book Solo Planet: How Singles Help the Church Recover Our Calling. Through interviews with hundreds of singles from around the world, she curates a conversation that invites all believers to contemplate the complexities of living without marriage in various places and cultures.

In her quest to uncover the key to a thriving single life, Broadway demonstrates how flourishing is available to those who make small, everyday choices to embrace their need for deep connectedness and belonging. However, this requires us to dismantle the marital status hierarchy we’ve created and refocus on the calling that the entire church, both married and single, has been saved to fulfill.

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Community, celebration, and support

Broadway structures her book around the common needs experienced by unmarried people. While some of these needs may not surprise readers, others will. With each glimpse into the lives of the interviewees, Broadway invites readers to observe how the needs that single people report are not unique to them. Rather, they point to our shared human experience in a fallen world.

Two of the first topics Broadway introduces are community and celebration. Throughout her research, she found that integrated community between singles and married people was rare. The reasons for this estrangement often revolved around questions of value. Marriage was considered superior compared to singleness, rendering singles as unnecessary for married people’s social and spiritual well-being.

Theodora, a British Protestant woman, summed up what Broadway heard from many singles: “Singleness [is] viewed as, like, a terrible thing. The goal [is] to get out of it and get married as soon as possible.” Other interviewees cited cultural factors, such as churches lumping singles together in young adult groups and a broader suspicion of relationships between singles and married people.

Throughout much of the book, Broadway’s interviewees highlight the struggles they faced as second-class citizens in their faith communities. But her extensive research also reveals the beauty and joy that emerged when they formed deep familial connections with each other and their married counterparts. Whether this took the form of a regular invitation for dinner from a family at church, the willingness to house an unexpected roommate, or weekly meetings with an intergenerational small group, interviewees consistently shared how small moments of intentional connection helped to build strong bonds of community.

Intertwined with the need for community is the need for celebration. When it comes to celebrations, few carry the significance of those related to marriage and children. So, Broadway acknowledges the difficulty that singles have in finding comparable events to celebrate. However, rather than simply providing creative replacements, she challenges us to change the focus of our celebrations by looking to the church calendar. She writes, “These seasons remind us that all Christians, single and married alike, belong in God’s family. We all have much to celebrate. We all have many ways to rejoice and weep together.”

The power of Broadway’s argument rests in how she goes beyond simply providing an addendum to our existing singleness-and-marriage paradigm. With each chapter, she works to break down our dysfunctional perspectives and align them anew through the lens of Scripture. By using our identity in Christ as the standard, she frees us from the limitations of the marital status hierarchy we’ve created. When we step into the interconnected nature of our baptismal calling, both singles and married people can flourish.

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Broadway’s interviews offer insights into other common needs, including food, housing, sexuality, leisure, and emotional health. However, one particularly poignant chapter focuses on singles’ experience with disease, disability, and death. Through this specific set of stories, many of which involve chronic disability or illness, Broadway underscores how many singles fear suffering or dying alone.

Whether the period of suffering is short or prolonged, it leaves many singles with the same questions that Broadway’s interviewees posed: Will people really care for us? Will people really come be with us in our last days? Kim, an American Protestant in Moscow, faced this reality when, despite being part of a good church community, she received very few visitors during a hospital stay. In her own words, those few days were “one of the most depressing times of [her] life.”

For some, friends and family provided a much-needed lifeline to help them find healing or to transition peacefully to life eternal with God. Colin, an American Catholic, helped care for his friend Deirdre after her cancer diagnosis. His support included moving in with her to help support her financially and running errands. He even planned a final life celebration for her friends and family when she entered hospice care. Reflecting on that experience, Colin told Broadway, “Regardless of our state in life, to be able to be there, and to help out to the extent possible, and to remain by her side until the end, is what we’re called to as disciples.”

Stories like these illustrate the church’s superpower of interconnectedness. But exercising it requires commitment, and commitment requires self-sacrificial service. By sharing the stories of singles who either gave or received this type of service, Broadway places them in the role that is usually reserved for married individuals, portraying them as guides for Christian living. Their relentless commitment to support one another models the type of love Jesus calls us to embody for one another.

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An identity shift

Diverse in age, gender, and ethnicity, the men and women Broadway interviewed share the kind of insights that can encourage contemplative conversations about singleness. Especially in her section on sexuality and sexual minorities, she gives readers the opportunity to grapple with complex and multifaceted questions, even if they do not agree with her answers.

However, in a few chapters, I wanted Broadway to invite us into a deeper place of contemplation. While her discussion on emotional health and leisure is helpful, I believe there are valuable lessons remaining to be unearthed. A closer examination of loneliness, shame, and rest could have challenged our understanding of identity and connectedness, helping the church grow in maturity.

Ultimately, Broadway’s book draws readers in to reflect on their own life seasons. As one considers the experiences described by hundreds of singles and many married people as well, a perspective shift will start to occur. With each chapter, it becomes clearer that the needs that Broadway examines are not solely related to marital status but rather arise from our shared humanity.

Even though our struggles might take different forms, married people and singles both struggle with finding a sense of identity and belonging. We all desire to be known and to know others deeply. The sheer volume of stories shared in this book demonstrates that the key to flourishing is, in some sense, the same for singles and married people alike. Our ability to thrive is directly linked to how well we embrace our oneness in Christ.

Colin encapsulated this idea so beautifully when he told Broadway: “[It’s] our baptism that gives us our identities, not our marital status.”

This baptismal identity reminds us that the fullness of life comes when our life is lived in and for Christ. Singleness is a gift because it provides an opportunity to live in a committed relationship with God and his people. This relationship is meant to be enduring—through all of life’s ups and downs, in sickness and in health, in abundance and in scarcity, we self-sacrificially love one another. For singles to thrive, they must live in this place of interconnectedness, and for the church to thrive it must do so as well.

I hope for the day this is not only taught within our churches but believed wholeheartedly.

Elizabeth Woodson is a writer, a Bible teacher, and the founder of the Woodson Institute. She is the author of Embrace Your Life: How to Find Joy When the Life You Have Is Not the Life You Hoped for.

Solo Planet: How Singles Help the Church Recover Our Calling
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Book Title
Solo Planet: How Singles Help the Church Recover Our Calling
Author
Publisher
NavPress
Release Date
March 19, 2024
Pages
304
Price
17.99
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