Singly Content

Posted on: July 01, 2014 Written by
Singly Content
Photography by: Francesco Ridolfi from iStock          

A single talks to singles…and married co-workers

I have been in ministry as a single…for a long time. What I want to say may not be totally new, but it comes from experience. I believe there are certain life issues which must be dealt with before a person can enter ministry—whether that person is single or married.

You need to know your gifts. If you do not know your gifts, you will not know where you would fit into a team or a ministry.

You need to know yourself. Scripture teaches us to see ourselves as God sees us. We are precious in God’s eyes. To know who we are helps us to be ourselves. I know I can never meet everyone’s expectations, so I have learned to be myself and live by the standard of God’s Word, rather than according to the expectations of others.

You need to be creative, not only in ministry but in day-to-day living. Married women are often good at this but some singles do not know how, or they think that it is unimportant. I determined from the beginning to make my house a home, so I took the time to make it “homey” for me! If I did not feel comfortable in my home overseas, I would always think of my home country as “home.” If my heart was not there, I would not put down roots there. If I did not put down roots, my commitment was not deep either.

You need to know your strengths, limitations, and weaknesses. Where I am weak, another team member will be strong. If I am strong in something, I can complement someone else who does not have that particular strength.

You need to be content with who you are. When married women say to me, “Oh, I wish I was single,” I say, “Sorry, it’s too late for you.” As singles, we may think if only we were married, everything would be fine. People need to realize that marriage is not the answer to life’s issues. I have come to realize that unless I accept myself as I am, no one else will either.

You need to be totally dependent on God to be independent. No one person can meet all your emotional need; only God can do that.

A lot of my Chinese colleagues feel badly for me and say, “Your life must be so boring.” Honestly, I have not had time to get bored; on the contrary, I have an exciting a life. I had a team as my family. When I felt like having a mom and dad I visited older missionaries. When I felt like being with brothers and sisters, I hung out with married couples on my team. When I felt the need for nieces and nephews, I went to a family; I played with the kids, and when I had had enough, I handed them back to their parents. I have the best of all worlds.

Many singles say, “I don’t get invited to homes for meals.” I heard that so much that I determined I would not sit around and wait for invitations. I accept invitations when there is no conflict with my ministry, but I also invite my co-workers and Chinese friends over. In the beginning, my cooking was not all that good, but they were gracious enough to “enjoy” it. If I need fellowship and no one invites me, I call someone and say, “Would you mind if I cooked a meal and brought it to your home?” No one has ever turned me down!

What do these issues have to do with ministry? A lot, because no matter where we live or serve, we need to follow these principles. If I function well in daily life, I function well in ministry.

Some singles think that they can only do behind-the-scenes jobs. I do not want to underestimate those positions, but I believe God has gifted all men and women for the establishment of the church. In my years living in Asia, I directed short-term ministries, mentored women, supervised language learning, was the team leader, and served on the Area Council. Leadership cannot be demanded, but it can be earned.

Did the men on my team have a problem with a woman as a leader? No, I was appointed by our Area Council, and the men had input on who should lead. There were times where I asked a male co-worker to be the public “face” to Chinese pastors, but I was the team leader.

All men, whether married or single, will work with single women in ministry. Since I work primarily with men on the team, I made it a point to be good friends with their wives. If I was not good friends with the wives, I could not work well with the husbands. I would go shopping or out to eat with the women to build relationships and ask their input on decisions.

What advice do I have for married couples working with singles? Here are my golden rules.

First, I am not the team’s official (or unofficial) babysitter. From time to time, if I felt that a couple needed a night out alone, I would call, tell them I had certain nights free, and suggest that I take care of their children. They never called me first to ask that I babysit.

Second, as a single, I have no more time than a married couple does. Everybody has 24 hours. My time is more flexible, since I do not have to be home to care for family, but I have no more hours than anyone else.

Third, many married people think singles can only be happy if they get married. I think these marrieds do not really understand singles. When people tease me about being single or try to match me up, I go along with the fun, but I have no problem being single. It is attitude that makes the difference.

Fourth, I like all my team mates, but I am naturally closer to some than others.

Fifth, I think there are certain times when a single particularly needs fellowship. Our team often gathered for holidays, but it was the days AFTER the holidays when I would get the blues. Being with a couple or family at that point meant a lot to me.

Single women do not need to feel intimidated by men. God may have allowed them to be single just for this time, to serve Him. Whether they are single temporarily or single forever is God’s choice, and it does not matter. What does matter is being content with the Lord and allowing Him to use us. Women are not in ministry just to pass the time till they get married.

If I could write a prescription for other single women in ministry, I would hand out large cups of contentment laced with a liberal dosage of You-are-God’s-Workmanship pills. God does not look on us as single or married. He made us who we are and wants our full allegiance and servant heart, no matter what our marital status.

©2014 Thrive.

Question to consider:  Single women, what would you add to Isabel’s lessons?  Married women, what would you add to Isabel’s golden rules?

Anna McShane edited this article for her, and says, “My three daughters, now in their 30’s and 40’s, consider ‘Aunt Isabel’ God’s gracious gift of an extra family member who has invested in their lives over decades and is always up for tea or Mongolian BBQ anywhere in the world.”

About the author

Isabel Lee is on the pastoral staff of the Chinese Bible Church of Maryland. She served several terms with SEND International in Asia, and currently serves on the SEND US Council. When she’s not teaching Bible in multiple languages in Maryland, she trains young leaders in the Middle East.

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  • Marion Stolte

    Very well said. I am married, and love being married. However, I never grew up feeling I had to get married to be worthwhile to God – or anyone else. I have had marvelous role models in my life – dear relatives – of Godly, single women – loving life, full of energy, serving God in whatever capacity and role / job they had wherever they were. What a blessing this has been – and has been something I have tried to instill in my own children and others with whom I engage. Thanks for sharing this.

  • I appreciate this article. Thank you for sharing your insights, Isabel! I am still single, and have heard so many “well meaning” friends and folks share their condolences with me. My Grandmother even said, “Too bad, you had your chance. You should have married one of the men who wanted you. Don’t expect God to bring along anyone else.”

    If I let myself look at singleness with worldly wisdom, it would be continually unsettling. However, in the light of eternity, it is a beautiful gift and blessing. I am able to spend (some days) hours of time in God’s Word, worshiping at His feet. I have the privilege of serving Him through my service to others in ways that would be quite impossible as a married woman. I have a singular purpose and devotion to Him alone, and I feel His most special blessings. God really does take extra good care of His little girls.

    As much as I look forward to the possibility of marriage in the future, I am delighted with where God has me today. And if I am to remain single for the span of this short life on earth, it will be a small gift to Him in the light and expanse of His glorious eternity.

    Strive on! Don’t look heart. Don’t be discouraged or afraid. God, Himself is with us. We are never alone.

    Thank you again for your article. May God bless your ministry today!

  • Sue Thomson

    Great article, Isabel! You’ve expressed how to be content as a single on the mission field very well. I’m so glad you represent us on SEND’s board.

  • Betsy

    Isabel’s article is right on! I have been serving as a single in Muslim Central Asia for nine years, where at age 32, I daily get grilled and scolded for not being married and having children, and then offered a local husband. One thing that has helped me is coming back to an eternal perspective, that marriage is temporary and only a shadow of what is to come. Somewhere I heard a sermon that said Jesus was single when he walked on this earth, and he is STILL single, still waiting for his bride! I was shocked and encouraged. As we do the work of the ministry, we are preparing the church, the bride of Christ, for her wedding day. When I do long for marriage (and I am deeply blessed with contentment (most days)), I am greatly encouraged to remember that the wedding day is coming!
    On a daily grind note, I wonder if singles need extra grace or freedom or flexibility when it comes to health issues. When medical care is not always available or trustworthy in our locations, and we have no partner to share the burden with, it increases the anxiety. As the only single on my team, I often feel wimpy or a burden to the team, because they have their spouses to process life and ministry and decisions with and I don’t or it becomes a matter on the team business agenda. I don’t know what to say about this. I know I am not alone. Perhaps I need to feel the permission to grant myself grace and do what I need to to take care of myself.
    I’d be grateful for insight with how other singles deal with such issues!

    • Debbie

      Dear Betsy,
      Your letter brought to mind a few things. I am also single, and working in a country where health facilities haven’t been always the best. When I have been very sick, my team mates have come to help, to either take me to the hospital or offer to buy medicine/food. Then I moved and didn’t have a team, but did know some other foreigners, and when I’ve felt sick, Just the fact I could call someone in case of emergency made me feel calm. Making myself a plan of what I would do “in case of”. Then, before moving, when I had team mates who were married, I think it was actually more difficult for them, when they became pregnant, and then had children, I think it brings a lot more anxiety to parents if there are no good health facilities.
      On another note, I realized when I first came, that I gave more importance to local people, than to my team; was more patient and tolerant with them, since I had less expectations from them than from my teammates. But then i realized my service to God was toward my team as well as to other people, and my love, grace, service to them were just as important. We are called to love as a life style in every situation, without discrimination, and that in itself is also a testimony to others. Taking this into account, I think it is ok when we are needy, and ask for help, the service of your teammates to local people is enhanced when they serve you! Then there will be other situations in which you help them. And all of it will be telling people we are disciples of Jesus.
      May God grant you His peace in these issues!!!

  • Lydia

    Thank you for writing this and for the practical encouragement.