Spoiler alert: this book is great, and I think everyone should read it.
Before I was halfway through the first chapter, I was blown away; before I was done with the book, I was already recommending it to people. Also, it’s short and cute—like me!—so I was able to finish it in a day and a half without even trying. Okay, maybe with a little trying.
Sam Allberry is known in the Christian community for his work on friendship in singleness, and perhaps more broadly known for being someone who struggles with same-sex attraction (SSA) but chooses to live celibately because, Bible. I was interested to see how much of those two things would come into play in this book. The first one did—and so beautifully—and the second one didn’t at all.
The book is laid out with an introduction, 7 chapters (each corresponding to a myth about singleness), a conclusion, and an appendix. The meat of the book, unsurprisingly, is in the 7 chapters, which are titled:
- Singleness is Too Hard
- Singleness Requires a Special Calling
- Singleness Means No Intimacy
- Singleness Means No Family
- Singleness Hinders Ministry
- Singleness Wastes Your Sexuality
- Singleness is Easy
Perhaps one of the most charming, most utterly REAL things about this book is the juxtaposition and coexistence of the first and last truths. I felt like those two chapters alone validated all of my feelings about singleness and gave me words for things I didn’t know I needed words for.
I’m not going to go through and spoil each chapter, but I will touch on a few things that stuck out to me because of where I am in life right now.
In Chapter 1, Allberry starts his book by showing why and how Jesus taught that
- Sex should be inside heterosexual marriage only.
- Yes, this is hard.
But he doesn’t just be like, “Here is what Jesus said. Good luck, suckers.” He also addresses the prevailing societal/human idea that sexual fulfillment is essential to life. Here is a quote from pg 26:
It dawned on me that the very kind of thinking that claims a life without sexual fulfillment is not really an authentic way to live is actually saying that Jesus did not fully come in the flesh, that his was not a full human life. To say that it is dehumanizing to be celibate is to dehumanize Christ, to deny that he came fully in the flesh and that his humanity was a “real” one.
So less than 10 pages into chapter 1, he proves from the Gospels that to live/believe any other sexual ethic is to dehumanize Jesus. Dang, son.
In Chapter 3, Allberry is on top of his game, having already written extensively on the topic of friendship. In this chapter, he delves into Proverbs to find what the word of God says about friendship, family, and the difference between the two. He extols deep friendship as being unlike any other kind of intimacy.
This topic was so good for me to read about because one of my closest friends (my roommate) is very seriously dating someone and is considering marrying him. Which means she’ll be moving out, and our friendship will be changing. Who am I kidding? Our relationship is already changing—mostly because I am sinful and didn’t realize the depths of jealousy that could be in my heart until just the last few months.
Part of what I’m going through with my roommate is that we’ve been together so long that huge chunks of our lives overlap in the same way that married people’s lives overlap. We may not share a room or a bank account, but we share friends, social events, schedules, secrets, love for each others’ families, and living spaces. We exist for each other in ways that no one else does—so much so that people have accused us (more than once, and usually behind our back) of being secret lesbians, and our siblings view us as basically married.
So it was really freeing for me when I read this paragraph on page 55:
Marriage is not just a close friendship with sex added. Nor is close friendship marriage without sex. Marriage, by definition and necessity, must be exclusive. It is covenantal. Friendship is not. My friendship with even a closest friend is not threatened by the growth of a similar friendship with someone else.
This chapter is one of the things that caused me to start letting go of my roommate and being okay with our relationship changing. It sucks. It’s hard. There are some moments in which I still resent her boyfriend. But this chapter made it a lot better and helped me see the Gospel more clearly in our friendship. And, after all, Jesus is the only friend who sticks closer than a sibling anyway.
I was interested to see what his point in Chapter 6 would be, as the question of “What do I do with my sexuality?” is something that I see the 30-something singles around me answering in all kinds of different ways. I was interested to see what Allberry would say, as a 40-something man who is committed to a biblical sexual ethic—and whose worldly identity is somewhat tied to his sexuality.
I wish I could type out the last two pages of the chapter here for you, but trust me – you need to read it. The chapter talks about how sexual longing (no matter how it expressed or not expressed) is meant to point us to Jesus, and to heaven where all our desires will be perfectly satisfied in our Savior.
The quote on the back of the book comes from this chapter:
If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency.
The oh-so-freeing truth from this chapter culminates on pg 121:
…my sexual feelings don’t need to be met for their purpose to be fulfilled. When I feel that deep sense of longing, that feeling of sexual restlessness and frustration, I am to think of that ultimate restlessness that comes when we live apart from our Creator, a restlessness that has its answer in one who promised deep and abiding rest for all who come to him. Sexual sin feels like the answer to that restlessness, but like all of sin’s pleasures, it is only temporary and fleeting.
Celibacy isn’t a waste of our sexuality; it’s a wonderful way of fulfilling it. It’s allowing our sexual feelings to point us to the reality of the gospel.
In other words, God’s way is the best way, and is so much more satisfying than sin. Which is a no-brainer, but my sinful self needs so, so, so many reminders. I pray—oh, how I pray—that this message, the truth and all-sufficiency of God’s way of doing things, would sink into the hearts and souls of each person in the church, including me.
After reading six chapters in which the Gospel oozes off of each page, I didn’t think it could get much better. But it did. Chapter 7 validated every struggle I’ve ever had with singleness, and a few I didn’t know I had. Yes, singleness has easy aspects; yes, it makes it easier to serve my church and build friendships; yes, it frees me to babysit and help out families around me. But in some ways, it’s just so. freaking. hard.
Allberry talks about several ways that singleness is hard. From friends forgetting to pursue you, to people moving away because their families are more important than you, to practical things like having to do all the bread-winning and household chores alone—sometimes, the anxiety and frustration of singleness can be crushing.
In the end, though, he closes with Eph 1:18-22, about the power of God in our lives. Instead of ending with a focus on the hard things, he ends with a focus on the God who has never encountered something too hard for him. God is our strength, God is our power, God is our sustainer, and God is the only one who makes living a godly life worth it.
Anyway, yeah. Can you tell I liked this book? I didn’t even touch on three of the chapters and the appendix (which is very practical and less cerebral).
Every pastor needs to read this book, if s/he wants to lead the singles in the church well. There, I said it. As soon as I was finished, I texted it to my current pastor, my former pastor, my dad (who is a pastor), and some singleness bloggers and podcasters. Like, it’s that good.
Please read it. That is all.