by Lauren Koval
A. Biblical perspective
1. Biblical Definition
Discontentment in the single life, as Dr. Ernie Baker explains in reference to one case of a discontent single man, “He continually struggled with really loving the Lord as his first priority because he believed that to be happy, he had to be married.” The desire to be married, and, often, start a family, becomes the ultimate hope and satisfaction of the single’s life, and the unhappiness of that “hope deferred” (Proverbs 13:12) becomes all-consuming for the single person. This can result in loneliness, depression, or resentfulness.
2. Biblical Perspective
God is always working all things for the believer’s good and his own glory (Romans 8:28). God does not withhold anything good from “those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Since singleness is also in the control of God, then discontentment or anger at God is a lack of trust in his goodness and sovereignty to provide what is good to those who love him. Discontentment or the quest for fulfillment from an external or earthly circumstance, like marriage, also shows dissatisfaction with God. Paul learned contentment through Christ who gave him strength (Phil. 4:12-13) because he had learned how Christ was of such surpassing worth (Philippians 3:8). The dissatisfied single longing for marriage to create her happiness looks to a “broken cistern” that holds no water, and to an unfulfilling hope (Jeremiah 2:13). The solution is “living water,” that is, Jesus himself (John 4), who can provide all the satisfaction, companionship, and grace that believers need. The goal is not marriage or singleness, but pursuing a relationship with Christ and his kingdom as the ultimate satisfaction and delight.
B. Secular perspective
Psychology has labeled discontentment and depression in singleness as an “ambiguous loss,” because, “adults who are single do not know when, if at all, someone who matches their anticipated spouse will come into their lives and choose to marry them.” Because they do not see the realization of those hopes or dreams, yet have not completely lost hope of seeing them realized, they are in an in-between mourning stage of something that is not physically there, but is psychologically there. This grief is in a “frozen” state, that which is unresolved, and thus more painful, and uncertain. The longing for relationship flows from a desire for “joy and purpose” from another human, thus, “the absence of meaningful relationships typically leads to loneliness, emptiness, depression, and despair.” With this comes the difficulty of societal pressures and expectations, and the inability to publicly mourn this “psychological loss.”
The goal of treatment of this depressing and ambiguous loss is to train the person to “cope” with the mourning and continue on with life, changing the attitude, not the inevitable situation. Because guilt, or identity-issues, or shame, or confusion can come when the hope of relationship is lost, but not quite, the psychologist can encourage the client by “supporting the notions that there is nothing wrong with enjoying singlehood and nothing wrong with enjoying marriage.” Other therapies like acknowledging conflicting emotions and normalizing the struggle often helps the client come to terms with their own emotions. Finally, helping the client find a new identity and meaning outside of “singleness” or “marriage,” causes them to keep the hope, but not be consumed by it. More assertive therapies include accepting the singleness to the point of saying, “I am not married because I do not want to be…I am single because I am enough for me.” This method encourages the discontent client to find their rest and identity and confidence in their own sufficiency, not their longing for marriage to fulfill them, or their fear of the stigma of singleness.
The idea of loneliness or discontentment in any situation has been since the Fall. Jane Clark says, “[loneliness] is caused by sin…by our estrangement from God and each other.” Sin causes us to seek satisfaction outside of God, or assume we need something other than what God has given. However, the more modern and cultural situation of increasing singleness has only developed in the past few decades. In the 1950s, only thirty-one percent of adults in America were single. As of 2015, that number has jumped to forty-five percent. The ages of single adults has grown over the same amount of time; on average, the age at marriage has increased six to seven years older.  As the article points out, “Despite the high rates of singlehood in the United States, 93% of Americans report that marrying is one of the most important life objectives they have.” So, though the amount of married couples is decreasing, the desire for marriage is not. As online dating services, and other creative methods of forming relationships abound, the issue becomes more and more prevalent.
For singles in the Church, the solution seems to be marriage, and singles are often seen as second best. Betty-Anne Van Rees discusses the “shift” to this issue beginning in World War II, when more women becoming increasingly independent in the work force, causing the increase of singles. As the Church generally centered on families, ministering to the growing number of singles became more difficult to adjust to, and more people struggled with desiring marriage and being discontent with their singlehood. More recently, the approach to loneliness in singlehood in the secular world has been to embrace and celebrate “singlehood.” Books like Eliyam Kislev’s Happy Singlehood, or Keturah Kendrick’s No Thanks: Black, female, and living in the martyr-free zone, promote the idea of perspective, that loneliness is a choice one makes, and, that being single is a healthy and good thing.
Kate Bolick, as explained on Lavin, argues that, “changing opportunities for women are changing the definition of the family, the workplace, the economy, and society as a whole.” As the shift to singlehood grows, the desire for marriage and discontentment in singleness are set aside for celebration of singleness and independence.
II. Evidence of the Problem
Some common themes and patterns of discontented singleness include extreme feelings of loneliness that results in despair and depression. Pulling away from Church activities and involvement because of the pain of seeing married friends, never attending weddings, and experience long episodes of depression during holidays. They can be distracted from ministry and are too preoccupied with searching for a spouse that they are unable to serve the Lord and his Kingdom.
Other results of this discontentedness include dating incessantly or settling for someone who is below the person’s standards. Or, the desire to have attention from someone and escape loneliness causes them to turn to sexual intimacy outside of marriage. Self-pity, feelings of inferiority, or feelings of meaningless are also signs of discontented singleness.
A. The Physical (external) Causes:
-Lacking a marriage or dating partner.
-Same Sex Attraction. Desiring marriage but not being attracted to the opposite sex.
B. The Spiritual Causes:
-Marriage fantasizing and idolizing
-Desire for affirmation and validation
-Lacking trust in God
-Seeing Singleness as a curse
IV. Examining the Heart
- Discontented singleness can flow from a variety of heart idols or themes. The person who desires marriage so strongly that they have become bitter towards God can result from a heart that is worshiping acceptance or security in relationships as the ultimate goal. They feel they are incomplete or invalidated by not achieving marriage, or, feel that the love of another human will complete them and make them less inferior. This is similar to the idol of people’s acceptance, placing one’s hope in the love of another human. Discontent can flow from a misunderstanding of desires. Jayne Clark argues that it is a misconception that God will always fulfill the desire of marriage if he has given it to someone. She refutes this claim by saying God has never guaranteed this in His Word, but that those desires are meant to be brought “under the lordship of Jesus Christ.” Other heart idols are worshiping comfort or security in circumstantial change, worshiping a sense of importance because of marriage, or worshiping the ability to control circumstances to one’s desired end. This demonstrates a lack of trust in God’s goodness, and a desire for satisfaction outside of him.
V. Biblical Solutions
A. Key Counseling Points
Because discontentment is rooted in heart idols, Dr. Ernie Baker discusses in his book, Marry Wisely, Marry Well, that, singles must examine their heart. If they are looking to marriage to make them happy, then it is replacing Christ and what he alone can give. If others have become the rock, the hope of fulfillment or happiness, then that is an idol that replaces the Lord. A sense of need of fulfillment of others by marriage forsakes the Lord as the true place of refuge. This must be repented of, and then worship of and love for the Lord turns the heart to find satisfaction in him.
Discontent singles must also overcome wrong beliefs about loneliness. Jayne Clark says, “Loneliness is actually caused…by sin…our estrangement from God.” Because this is true, “The solution lies in the redemption of our relationship with God.” Pursuing a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the Father through his Son is where true happiness comes. This idea, of pursuing deeper communion with God for lasting contentment rather than looking to marriage for the cure to loneliness is echoed by Dr. Ernie Baker, Lori Smith, Sean Perron, and many others. Because of Christian community, the call out of loneliness is to then turn to the community and union of the Body of Christ and enjoy the fellowship of believers.
The single person must learn to trust the Lord. Bitterness and anger at God for not fulfilling the desire for marriage results from disbelieving that he is good, that he does not withhold anything good from his children, or disbelieving that he is in control of every circumstance (Romans 8:28; Psalm 84:11). If singleness is God’s plan, then it is the best plan for your life at this time. Embrace it, and rejoice in God’s goodness towards you, and turn to him. It’s not something to settle for, but something to thank God for, that he has given this circumstance in this time, and has its own joys and blessings.
Sean Perron, author for “Biblical Counseling Coalition” and Marshall Seagal, author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating as well as others encourage singles to develop their love for the Lord and his Word, and then rest in his love for them. This leads to the conviction that Jesus alone is living water (John 4). Finally, because Christians are made to enjoy community with other believers with the union of the Body of Christ, they must involve themselves in the Church, building relationships, discipling others, and serving by using their gifts, not bemoaning their unmarried state and wasting the time in their life to serve.
Discontent singles with same sex attraction need to understand the same principles as above. But, an even more intense feeling of loneliness or isolation can come upon them. As a result, they must be reminded that they are not left alone by Jesus, nor by his church, and that their struggle is common to man (1 Cor. 10:13). There is hope for the pursuit of holiness and love for the Lord. Their struggles should not be reduced to something simple, but, in love, they must be shown God’s goodness and grace in their struggle.
Counseling for contentment also doesn’t mean that the desire for marriage should vanish in contentment. Asking the Lord for a godly spouse, pursuing relationships toward marriage, and examining ways that you can grow are all things that are important parts of this season in life.
B. Important passages in contentment in singleness:
-Know the Lord’s goodness (Psalm 103; Psalm 84:11)
-Know the Lord is in control and trustworthy, working in all situations (Romans 8:28)
-Use singleness as an opportunity and delight and gift to please the Lord (1 Corinthians 7)
-Set surpassing worth on knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8; Phil. 4:11-13).
-Humble yourself before the Lord and draw near to him, repenting of coveting and discontentment (James 4:1-10).
-Rest in the satisfaction God brings (John 4)
C. Recommended Books
Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Singleness and Dating by Marshall Segal
Marry Wisely, Marry Well by Dr. Ernie Baker
The Secret of Contentment by William B. Barcley
Single and Lonely: Finding the Intimacy you Desire by Jayne V. Clark
Quest for Love by Elisabeth Elliot
Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring your Love Life under Christ’s Control by Elisabeth Elliot.
Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life by Barry Danylak
Seven Myths about Singleness by Sam Allberry
D. Homework Resources
Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness: 31-Day Devotional by Megan Hill
Discovering Wonderful Things Worksheet for:
Study 1 Corinthians 7
Chapters 5 and 7 in Marry Wisely, Marry Well and answer the questions at the end of the chapters.
Asmus, Christopher. “Satisfied in the Arms of Another: Four Lessons for Same-Sex-Attracted
Christians.” Desiring God, October 24, 2018.
Baker, Dr. Ernie. Marry Wisely, Marry Well. Wapwallopen: Shepherd Press, 2016.
Clark, Jayne V. “Struggling through Singleness.” Journal of Biblical Counseling 29, no. 1,
DePaulo, Bella. “Single Life in the 21st Century: A Guide to Owning It.” Psychology Today,
June 22, 2019.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/201906/single-
Jackson, Jeffrey B., “The Ambiguous Loss of Singlehood: Conceptualizing and Treating
Singlehood Ambiguous Loss Among Never-Married Adults.” Contemporary Family
Therapy 40, (2018): 210-222.
Lavin. “Going It Alone: Kate Bolick on the History of Singlehood.” Lavin, December 27, 2012.
Perron, Sean. “Relationships: Contentment and Dating.” Biblical Counseling Coalition, February
7, 2018. https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2018/02/07/relationships-
Reju, Deepak. “How Can you Be Satisfied on Valentine’s Day (And for the Rest of Your Life)?”
Biblical Counseling Coalition, February 13, 2019,
Van Rees, Betty-Anne. “Single in the Church.” Biblical Counseling Coalition, February 14,
 Dr. Ernie Baker, Marry Wisely, Marry Well (Wapwallopen: Shepherd Press, 2016), 71.
 Jayne V. Clark, “Struggling through Singleness,” Journal of Biblical Counseling 29, no. 1, (2015), 15.
 Sean Perron, “Relationships: Contentment and Dating,” Biblical Counseling Coalition, February 7, 2018, https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2018/02/07/relationships-contentment-and-dating/.
 Deepak Reju, “How Can you Be Satisfied on Valentine’s Day (And for the Rest of Your Life)?” Biblical Counseling Coalition, February 13, 2019, https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2019/02/13/how-can-you-be-satisfied-on-valentines-day-and-for-the-rest-of-your-life/.
 Sean Perron, “Relationships: Contentment and Dating.”
 Jeffrey B. Jackson, “The Ambiguous Loss of Singlehood: Conceptualizing and Treating Singlehood Ambiguous Loss Among Never-Married Adults,” Contemporary Family Therapy 40 (2018): 213.
 Ibid., 213.
 Ibid., 211.
 Ibid., 212.
 Ibid., 214.
 Ibid., 215.
 Ibid., 216.
 Ibid., 217.
 Ibid., 219.
 Bella DePaulo, “Single Life in the 21st Century: A Guide to Owning It,” Psychology Today, June 22, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/201906/single-life-in-the-21st-century-guide-owning-it.
 Jayne V. Clark, “Struggling through Singleness,” 10.
 Jeffrey B. Jackson, “The Ambiguous Loss of Singlehood,” 210.
 Ibid., 211.
 Betty-Anne Van Rees, “Single in the Church,” Biblical Counseling Coalition, February 14, 2015, https://www.biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2015/02/04/single-in-the-church/.
 Bella DePaulo, “Single Life in the 21st Century.”
 Lavin, “Going It Alone: Kate Bolick on the History of Singlehood,” Lavin, December 27, 2012, https://www.thelavinagency.com/news/going-it-alone-kate-bolick-on-the-history-of-singlehood.
 Deepak Reju, “How Can you Be Satisfied on Valentine’s Day (And for the Rest of Your Life)?”
 Jayne. V. Clark, “Struggling Through Singleness,” 9.
 Dr. Ernie Baker, Marry Wisely, Marry Well (Wapwallopen: Shepherd Press, 2016), 28.
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 44.
 Jayne V. Clark, “Struggling Through Singleness,” 10.
 Ibid., 11.
 Dr. Ernie Baker, Marry Wisely 72.
 Ibid., 75-77
 Christopher Asmus, “Satisfied in the Arms of Another: Four Lessons for Same-Sex-Attracted Christians,” Desiring God, October 24, 2018, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/satisfied-in-the-arms-of-another.