Have you ever met an old married couple and thought to yourself, “These two have basically turned into the same person?” They might not look alike (or maybe they do)—but either way, they act the same. Their habits and humor and interests and accents have fused together over time, making it impossible to imagine who they might have become without one another’s companionship.
If I stay alive long enough to earn the word “old,” I hope that’s what people see in me.
Embodied: The Latest from Preston Sprinkle
To be clear, I’m very single at the moment, and I have every intention of staying that way for my entire life. So when I look hopefully at those look-alike old married couples, it’s not their marriage that I’m hoping to replicate in my own life. It’s their identicalness, their obvious fusing together. I want to live a life that is shaped around another person’s life at every turn. I want to be so formed by our proximity, pressed together like Play-doh in a mold, until my skin bears the imprint of theirs.
I used to believe that this kind of shaping was only available within marriage. Growing old as a single person must, I assumed, be like growing old as a solitary lump of Play-doh, with nothing to mold around. And indeed, I think singleness can turn out this way. I’ve seen it turn out this way. I know single people who have grown old in a way that’s all about themselves, turning into the human equivalent of crusty, shapeless Play-doh lumps. (Don’t tell them I said so.)
But I’ve also had the privilege of getting to know another kind of single people: the ones who have taken their years of spouse-lessness and used them as an opportunity to mold their lives entirely around the person of Jesus. Instead of remaining selfishly unshaped by anyone else, these singles have found within their singleness an occasion for the best shaping of all.
This, as I understand it, is precisely the argument that the apostle Paul makes in favor of singleness in 1 Cor. 7:32-34:
An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. (NIV)
In Paul’s view, the single man’s superpower is his ability to be “concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.” For the single woman, Paul elaborates even more extensively on the beauty of her calling: “Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.” In other words, says Paul, without the pressures of marriage molding us in particular directions, single people have the opportunity to embrace an even better molding, one wholly defined by devotion to God.
If you’re a married person (or a hoping-to-be-married person) who feels like this passage is trying to make you feel guilty about marriage, fear not! We know from the greater context of 1 Cor. 6 and 7 that Paul isn’t anti-marriage. He is, rather, a realist about both marriage and singleness. He recognizes that any path we choose, whether marriage or singleness, will mold us in some fashion. The question is not whether we will be molded by our marriage or singleness, but how we will be molded.
For now, I’ll leave it to the married and hoping-to-be-married folks to talk amongst themselves about what it means to be molded within marriage in a way that’s radically obedient to Jesus. (If you’re longing to hear my very celibate thoughts on the subject, be my guest at this link.) I certainly do believe that, for those who are privileged to grow old with a spouse, there are good and beautiful and God-honoring ways of molding your lives around one another. If you’re aspiring to become one of those look-alike old married couples, I hope you do just that, finding ways as you grow to serve God better as a one-flesh unit than you would have done apart.
As for me, I’m aspiring to something totally different and still so much the same: I want to grow old with Jesus.
I want to fall asleep with Jesus every night and wake up with him every morning, to have him be my first and last conversation. I want to talk with him until my voice starts to sound like his, to laugh with him until I share his sense of humor. I want to spend so much time loving and being loved by him that the way I love and the way he loves start to take on the same shape. I want to mold myself against him, skin to skin, until the resemblance between us is uncanny.
I know this all might sound corny to you. (Frankly, it sounds corny to me sometimes.) But Jesus seems to delight in me even when I’m corny. And the longer the two of us spend together, the more his delight is rubbing off on me.