Dear Frustrated Single,
Young Man, Hi. Welcome to this particular webpage. I have some thoughts for you that I'm going to work out. I have seen your plight, and I want to be of help to you.
I want to play the role of big brother to little brother in this little piece (or good friend to friend). Sibling grace is easy to forget, isn't it? Remember when your older brother or cousin (or very close friend) took you aside after your dad (or authority figure) put the world to rights and said, “Hey, bro, it's cool. Do what Dad says. But you're going to be all right. I'll help you if you need it.” Then he gave you a pound on the back and told you to come play outside. Remember that feeling? It was powerful. It was restorative. It put things in perspective, helped you to see that you were going to be okay. That's what I'm hoping to do here. I'm not at all taking back what “Dad” says—I'm just coming alongside you. You'll see what I mean in a minute.
Men today are in trouble. Many need a stiff challenge.
Many evangelical and particularly “new Calvinist” commentators are noting problems endemic to modern manhood—Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, Darrin Patrick, and Rick Phillips, to name a few. This could not be more welcome. Guys today have been taught by countless sources and media outlets that they are inherently dumb, ignoble, and inferior to women. Guys hook up with girls, shirk responsibility, take only unserious things seriously, and generally neglect the great opportunities before them. The statistics related to college attendance, marriage, and workforce entry and advancement offer boundless testimony to this reality. A generation raised on Maxim sees women as conquests and children as an inconvenience. A generation devoted to Jackass embodies it. A generation obsessed with fantasy football gives itself over to a fantasy world, where games and players replace serious pursuits and leadership of others. Men are in trouble, with Christian men falling prey to many of these lesser things.
So let the horn sound. Challenge boys and men to follow a different path. Model what this looks like. Show them how to live for Christ, and to serve family, church, and society. Absolutely.
But there's a danger in our contemporary situation. In going after the broad swath of boys and men like a gracious but fearless drill sergeant, we might chew up the well intended. Some guys have heard the call; they have read the books; they go to the conferences. They really want to be husbands and fathers and church leaders. They are taking steps in all of these areas to make maturity happen. In some cases, they weren't trained well by fathers; in some, they didn't have fathers. Whatever their background, they have heard the call, and they want to answer it. Despite little or poor training, they are burdened to make a better way. They want to rise up, love a woman well, raise children to know the Lord, and join other men in shouldering the work of ministry on their backs. They're signed up, they have the nametag, and they are eager to get going.
This Is Not a Group Hug
This is not going to devolve into some sort of pseudo-psychological call for lavish tenderness and the tending of fragile hearts. Life is hard. God grows his people through difficulty. Being a young man has never been easy, and it really shouldn't be easy. The bar should be set high, and young men should have to jump to reach it. Things should be this way not because it's fun to be mean, but because maturity, and especially Christocentric maturity, is tough. Staying faithful to one woman, providing for a family, pushing past weariness to care for one's family and lead it well—these are hard things. They call for hard preparation, lest—like in a war—you think things will be easy and get in over your head.
But we do need to remember that being single can be unusually tricky. It looks easy in retrospect from the vantage point of someone who's married. Funny how we can forget the abject fear that comes from risking it all and actually asking a girl out (gulp). Funny how we can forget the gut-punch that comes when she says no. Funny how we can forget struggling with feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, and anxiety. As with every earthly trial, these struggles call for the grace of God, the counsel and kindness of friends, and the acceptance and encouragement of the church.
I'm not calling for a torqued Christian movement in which we endlessly qualify our challenges, rebukes, and prophetic calls. I'm not even suggesting that Christian leaders sounding the call to masculine maturity have missed something. If you listen to and read the figures I mentioned above, you'll frequently encounter helpful, gracious nuances and explanations. I have no quarrel with these men. I have benefited hugely from their biblical teaching and consider it personally foundational. I think it's desperately needed, more even than what I'm writing about here. But with all that said, we all need encouragement and hope. To deny this to men—especially frustrated young men who seek good things—would be cruel.
What to Do
Women need the same brand of comfort as do men. This isn't exclusionary. Many young women make their way through singleness in silence and loneliness. Even as we call young women to biblical femininity and all its privileges and responsibilities, we need to make excruciatingly clear that single Christians are full citizens of the kingdom. Many of us know young women who yearn to be nothing more than wives and mothers but who have not, for whatever reason, seen God make this happen. The doctrine of providence is the answer and comfort of those in such situations.
I have focused, though, on men. Much of the kind of encouragement I've suggested as necessary needs to come in the context of the local church, and in particular through older or more experienced men reaching out to younger men. There is a dearth of this kind of activity in many churches, and we need a recovery of mentoring and discipleship. The book of Titus is small but potent on this point for both men and women. Some of this kind of relational involvement will mean helping frustrated young men to think hard about how best to strategize for leadership. In some cases, it may mean asking questions—how are you presenting yourself? Can you grow in conversational skills? Why do guys who ask girls if they want to consider marriage on the first date deserve to be shoulder-punched? In others, it may mean simply encouraging them, reminding them of biblical truth, and listening—not giving tons of answers, but listening. All this will help young men to see that though the Bold Call to Manly Maturity is absolutely necessary, it should not be heard as condemnation.
In all of these things, we need an emphasis on trust in God, the Savior and Shepherd of his people. This is basic but essential. God sent his Son to earth to save our lost souls. That is our chief joy. Every person, single or married, has the opportunity to participate in the work of gospel promotion, to live doxologically such that God is shown—in any and all seasons of life—to be eminently more worth living for than sex, or money, or status, or achievement, or even the natural family. The comfort that this God, overwhelmingly good and gracious, directs each and every aspect of our lives, each moment that passes, is no mere theological datum, but a biblical reality of greatest personal consequence.
So there's my case, single brother. Consider me, if you can pull this off mentally, your brother and friend. Don't worry about the whole arm-around-the-shoulder thing. Wherever you find yourself, with whatever hopes you carry, do all you can to heed the biblical call to manly maturity. Reject the culture and its temptations. Emulate your Savior. Seek out godly men in your church to mentor you. If you discern that you are not called to singleness (and some definitely are), keep risking rejection. Keep pushing past fear. Keep serving your church faithfully. Pray hard. Pour out your desires to the Lord. Trust him as you do so. Never stop trusting him.
Manhood is hard; keep pushing and taking dominion—spiritual, physical, emotional—of your life and your world. God has loved you; you love God. I don't know what God has for you, but I do know that because he is great, and good, and gracious, you are going to be okay.
Enough talking. You ready to go outside?