I saw a shirt recently that read: “I’m not single; I’m available.” This phrase got me thinking about how our language labels the unmarried. “Single” implies one. It connotes being by yourself, even alone. But “available” simply means able to be used, at someone’s disposal, not otherwise occupied, free to do something.
God’s Family has many husbands, wives, fathers and mothers who are “unavailable” in ways that the singles in God’s Family are not. As a single, you have unique availabilities in the work place, in educational pursuits, in God’s Work, and even in friendships within the Family of God.
The singles program also includes students at Herbert W. Armstrong College. Though single (even if of a marriageable age), they are admonished to basically complete their education before any thought of finding a mate. This makes them “unavailable” in the marital sense, but available for so many other facets of service to God’s Family. And if they begin thinking about marriage too early, that then makes them unavailable for the many aspects of the college experience.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “… He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32). He acknowledged that a single is “available” to God in special ways.
This is not a case against marriage. Actually, since singledom is a temporary phase of life for many, this is a case for making the most of these unique availabilities.
This also reinforces the fact that singles are not necessarily at any kind of spiritual disadvantage in terms of qualifying for God’s Kingdom. As Single-Minded for God expresses it: “Marriage is not a qualification for God’s Kingdom. Righteousness is. … It doesn’t matter what condition we are in, as long as we fully serve God in a righteous state.” The booklet references Anna the prophetess in Luke 2:36-38. She remained unmarried after being widowed at a young age, and that wasn’t a sin or spiritual shortcoming. The book comments: “But since it is not good for a man or woman to be alone, she undoubtedly built strong friendships with converted people.”
Like Anna, who “served God with fastings and prayers night and day,” singles can be available to God in remarkable ways—available for many strong friendships, and available for service.
After all, what is God’s intent for each of us? He is reproducing His mind, His love, His way of giving and serving in us. Whatever phase of life we are in, we are to let God create those things in us. Whatever our stage of life, we must allow God to build our faith and contentment. In whatever state we are found, God can humble us and chip away at our selfishness and self-love.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
Romans 12:1 teaches us that presenting our bodies in living sacrifice (our reasonable service) leads to what verse 2 describes: a transformation. That kind of service breaks us free from worldly conformity and transforms our minds. God is doing that with everyone in His Family. How “available” we are to serve is how “available” we are for God to transform our minds!
Single-Minded for God states, “God wants life for His precious singles to be encouraging, helpful, physically enriching and spiritually rewarding. He wants it to be just as family-oriented—just as millennial, and just as preparatory to the Kingdom of God—as it is for everyone in His Spirit-begotten Family.”
Paul continued to admonish each “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (verse 3). In verses 4 and 5, he wanted us to understand that everyone serves a function in the body of Christ. After that, he elaborates on the variety of gifts that God gives and says we must maximize those gifts to the benefit of the Family. Being unmarried, as he pointed out in 1 Corinthians 7:7, can be a gift from God.
Later, in 1 Corinthians 12, he elaborates on how the body functions as unique parts working together. (For more, read the article on Teamwork.) But notice verse 13: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Given what he wrote about marital status in this epistle, Paul could have easily written whether we be single or married.
The tragedy, however, is when there is a single (an Available) who is unavailable. And I don’t necessarily mean unavailable for marriage, but in a broader sense: being closed-minded in a manner that keeps them from greater service to the Family of God. The obstacles to our availability might be some preconception or prejudice that is closing us off, or some trauma that is making us closed-hearted because of the pain and fear it has spawned.
For the remainder of this article, we’ll consider these two main obstacles to our availability: assumptions and past trauma, and how the latter can feed the former in a vicious cycle. Can you challenge what might be making you unavailable? Whether it be assumptions, prejudices or misconceptions that don’t have any real basis and need to be challenged, or some injury or past pain that has caused certain “walls” that are blocking out real growth and opportunity that God wants for us.
When talking about the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul hits home when he describes how we often talk about ourselves and others. We can easily make assumptions either by bemoaning our supposed uselessness (verses 15-19), or by looking down on others in the body (verses 20-25). Even if we might be ashamed of someone else serving in the body, Christ is not (Hebrews 2:11). We must be careful about those assumptions because “God hath tempered the body together” (1 Corinthians 12:24).
We would be wise to always examine ourselves for assumptions—either toward ourselves or others.
In Teaching That Changes Lives, Marilee Adams wrote, “Continually wondering about assumptions is the core discipline of the most effective thinking and problem-solving.” She also wrote this powerful statement: “Assumptions and hidden beliefs are our largest sources of problems, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities.”
Is that an exaggeration? Consider what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in Does God Exist? This is under the subhead “Don’t Assume—Know!”: “All the facts, positive evidence, rational reasonings and proofs in the world will never induce such a one to accept that against which he is prejudiced. For prejudice is a barrier to the entrance of truth into any mind” (emphasis mine).
Proverbs 18:13 warns us, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” This proverb warns against the foolishness and shamefulness of assumptions and prejudices—against a mind unavailable “to the entrance of truth.”
Mr. Armstrong was regularly challenging his readers to prove all things. In his July 1969 Plain Truth personal, he wrote: “Very few realize just how they came to believe the things they believe. … Truly, unless we are vigilant, our minds will play tricks on us. So, beliefs are accepted, and prejudices are built up.” That is the briefest sampling of this profound article, which is a great supplement to this topic.
Mr. Armstrong succinctly covers similar principles in the opening pages of Does God Exist?, where he writes regarding creation versus evolution: “All of which goes to show that people in general believe what they do simply because they have been taught it, or because it has been accepted in their particular social environment. People want to belong! They go along with their particular group. In general, they believe what they have taken carelessly for granted—without examination or proof!”
We can have this kind of blind acceptance with anything: from big things like God’s existence to smaller things about ourselves personally, our preferences or pet peeves, or—more dangerously—about others.
Our Single-Minded for God booklet says assumptions could be a “list of [crossed-off] singles” that you keep tucked away in the shadowy part of your mind. It says we can confuse diversity with incompatibility—a difference we assume is a deal-breaker rather than a much-needed complement to our personality. Or perhaps: “As a single, you can consistently shut people of the opposite sex down because you interpret any sign of friendliness as proof positive that they want to marry you.” That’s an assumption.
You might hold assumptions about the singles directory—causing you to hold back from being on it, or staying on it. Or assumptions about the Church’s singles program as a whole. Are we imposing our misperceptions on what we think it is meant to accomplish? Are we disappointed only because of what we have pre-judged its intent to be?
Single-Minded for God addresses another Proverbs 18:13 assumption: “You can be so attached to a personal idea of what kind of mate would be best suited for you—maybe a certain physical ideal or specific personality trait—that you prematurely judge and reject someone, limiting a friendship.”
We can also use assumptions in the other direction: thinking someone is perfect for us based only on “assumptions, conjecture and wishful thinking based on minimal information.”
What God told the Prophet Samuel is so critical to remember: “… the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). The outward appearance is full of incomplete information. Judging based on that is a minefield of assumptions—answering matters before you have truly heard them, so to speak.
The best way to challenge assumptions (whether mental blocks or wishful thinking) is to ask good questions. Cultivate a curious mindset.
Marilee Adams states: “Making assumptions is just part of being human, so you can assume you’re always making them just like everyone else. The best defense against problems and limitations caused by assumptions is to cultivate your inquiring mindset, stay curious, and continuously ask questions. Most important, the habit of questioning assumptions is a fundamental discipline for becoming an effective creative and critical thinker.”
Dating can be a great way to answer certain “curiosities” or “questions” and remove unhealthy assumptions. “Getting to know people and what makes them tick is an adventure in learning,” as Single-Minded for God tells us. You can date with the spirit of “prove all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and with the spirit of the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11). Sure, the Bereans were proving biblical things, but the account says they did so “with all readiness of mind,” meaning there was a willingness, even an eagerness, there.
Some have described curiosity as a mental itch. Challenge your assumptions and turn them into cognitive itches, and have an eagerness to get to the truth!
For a practical example of prejudices being aroused, challenged and overcome, I’d highly recommend you reread the section of Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography where he talks about the courtship of Richard Armstrong and Lois Lemon—found in chapter 68.
The other major issue that can make us “unavailable,” both in relationships and with God’s Work, is trauma—past pain and scarring. This can make us unavailable in the sense that we are less open out of fear of encountering more pain.
Single-Minded for God states, “When we enter into a relationship, even a friendship, we make ourselves vulnerable.” Any relationship requires vulnerability, because a relationship involves sharing—sharing a part of ourselves. That gets further amplified when the relationship is “romantic”: “If you have had a relationship that you hoped would lead to marriage and it fell apart,” our booklet continues, “you know how painful that can be. And the older you become, the likelier it is that you have had experiences that have erected these emotional and mental barriers.”
Perhaps you are among those who have not even been given the opportunity to have such a relationship. Single-Minded for God discusses one woman not being asked on a date for 20 years: “Such rejection and neglect exacts a painful emotional toll, often causing the person to withdraw and become even harder to relate to.”
Again, past pain can make us build certain “walls.” Not good, healthy boundaries, but walls that make us unavailable for strong, edifying relationships. The building blocks of those walls include fear—perhaps fear your actions will be misinterpreted, or fear of getting reinjured.
The danger of that wall is that it’s a wall against many feelings—whether pain or joy. We can go through life simply numbed to any kind of feeling, negative or positive. Would God want us to be “unavailable” to feelings of real joy?
We build these walls around our hearts, mainly as a defense against any kind of feeling. But Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart ….” Of course this is talking about faith, but consider your relationship with God in this context. When we talk about intimate relationships, we often say that we’ve given the person our heart. And when we get hurt, we get more reserved about to whom we “give” our heart, or how much of our heart we make available.
Consider that phrase “all your heart.” Have you ever thought about how much you trust God with your heart? Have you given God all of it? That would be the start for real healing in “matters of the heart.” If you’ve been injured emotionally, trusting someone with your heart begins with trusting God with all your heart.
(For more on this, I’d suggest you read “Love Requires Risk.” In that article, author Josué Michels discusses how Mr. Armstrong put his whole heart in God’s Work, and he became vulnerable to a certain pain because of that, but he was truly living.)
The phrase “all your heart” is used in 19 verses in the Bible: here in Proverbs 3, then six times as in loving God with all your heart, and five time as in serving God with all your heart. Service, as we saw earlier, transforms us. God doesn’t want a percentage of our heart while a portion is walled off!
Again, emotional trauma can make this more difficult. We often use a term that has to do with physical injury to illustrate this: a scar. Britannica defines this, “a mark left on the skin after the healing of a cut, burn, or other area of wounded tissue. As part of the healing process, specialized cells called fibroblasts in adjacent areas of skin produce a fibrous connective tissue made up of collagen. The bundles formed by these whitish, rather inelastic fibers make up the bulk of the scar tissue. Though scar tissues possess networks of small capillaries and are thus supplied with blood, they lack the oil glands and elastic tissue that normally protect the skin against irritation; consequently, they are often slightly painful or itchy. Sometimes a scar becomes an excessively thick and fibrous, tumorlike growth called a keloid … which extends beyond the wound’s original limits. Another, less serious form of overscarring is that of hypertrophic scars, in which the scar grows overly thick but remains confined within the limits of the wound.”
Just as skin wounds take time to heal and scar over, there is a similar process after emotional injury. And there are parts of us that might be emotionally tougher and less vulnerable.
That definition does not factor in our healing God. He can heal both physical and emotional scarring. As with any healing, the timing is up to Him. And our faith and obedience are factors as well. If I lack faith in God’s promise, or I keep breaking the physical laws that brought on a certain penalty, I have violated that side of the healing covenant.
Consider how scarring could impact our fearfulness. Think about a significant physical scar on your body and what brought it about. You’re probably cautious about engaging in the same kind of activity. If you do take up that activity again, you approach it with a “lesson learned” mentality so as to not repeat the mistake. That is growing in wisdom. Similarly, we can approach all our relationships with more wisdom. But don’t mistake a gun-shy, wimpish fear for wisdom!
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). There is a lot of wisdom in God’s love, but not fear. Exercising God’s perfect love casts that out. How do we perfect this love? One way is mentioned in verse 12: “… If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” Ask yourself: How afraid am I? and How much of God’s love am I exercising?
This brings to mind the time where Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive a repeat offense from the same person. Christ’s well-known response in Matthew 18:22 (seventy times seven) is further elaborated on in Luke’s account: “… If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). If he apologizes and keeps wronging you, and keeps apologizing, that’s a fairly “open, available” response to your brother. It is no coincidence that the next verse quotes the disciples as saying: “Increase our faith.” That kind of response takes some faith—that is some trust!
Of course, this is not advocating that we set ourselves up for a brother to keep hurting us—as in, creating a situation where offense is going to be inevitable. That is not good for our brother! There must be wisdom there. But the way Christ describes it here, it really shows how flexible we must be where there’s an offense and a subsequent apology—even seven in a day.
Single-Minded for God lists resentment as one of seven relationship killers: “Don’t keep track of other people’s sins and wrongs. Be quick to let things go.”
Resentment can lead to bitterness, and Mr. Armstrong said that was more addictive than heroin. It’s probably less like a scar than like an infected wound.
As stated, trauma and subsequent fears can cause a vicious cycle into making further assumptions, harboring misconceptions and embracing prejudices. Trauma can even cause misconceptions. In pain, we can make an association between two things that does not exist. We can think of something as truth based on what happened. Trauma can cause us to make especially wrong associations as relate to marriage and family.
“God wants the singles in His Church to have a thoroughly positive attitude toward marriage and family. Not an over-romanticized view, but a realistically and fundamentally optimistic view.”
Are You Available?
How available are we for God’s perspective? That is the extent to which we will let God transform us through service!
Sometimes our perspectives need tweaking. Sometimes we need a cognitive earthquake. Rest assured God will provide what we need.
May we all continue to work on having a welcoming, relationship-building atmosphere in our lives: neither closed-minded nor closed-hearted. May we all have minds and hearts available to God—serving and loving Him, His people and His Work with all our heart, and trusting Him with all our heart. This will continue to build a godly, healthy program—not of “singles” in the sense of being alone as individuals, but of “availables,” people open to all the connections and potentialities God has in store!