Basically, the advice of St. Paul is to remain unmarried because to marry is a distraction to focusing on the things of the Lord. He is quick to say that this is just his opinion and said not to put restraint on you, but rather it’s for your own benefit.
Of course, anything that distracts us away from God is certainly not to our benefit. But to get married, in and of itself, is not a bad decision nor a distraction from God. In fact, for those who enter into it with the right intent, marriage is a vocation and will lead us closer to God in proportion to the gift we make of ourselves to the other.
However, you cannot deny St. Paul’s point that a person who is married is divided, because they are anxious about the things of their spouse. By the very nature of marriage, you must tend to the things of your spouse. You can’t tend only to the things of God while neglecting your duties as a spouse.
St. Paul wants people to grow closer to God. Perhaps St. Paul was surrounded by married people who did not have time for the kind of missionary service that he was doing and loved so much. Perhaps he just wanted single people to realize that it is so much more enjoyable and fulfilling to serve God full-time, rather than voluntarily distract yourself from God by marrying.
The main point is that St. Paul wants single people to be free of earthly anxieties. It is worth considering “anxieties” in the sense of occupying the mind with thoughts about getting married one day.
People who want to be married one day and are unhappy that they are still single spend time dwelling on this fact. Some spend quite a bit of time on it. They build up a tremendous anxiety about when it will happen and who it will be with and how it will come about. This anxiety is negative and works against the person.
Single people sometimes make themselves crazy! They are their own worst enemy by over-thinking about getting married and why it has not happened, and even question God. They want marriage so badly, they miss the opportunities they have in the now.
Jesus is very clear about living in the now, and leaving the future to itself. He is also clear about taking advantage of your opportunities. Jesus told Martha that she was anxious about many things and that Mary chose the better option; namely to visit with the Lord while He was in their midst and not lose the opportunity by busying yourself with other normal matters that you can do anytime when the Lord is not visiting.
An unmarried person has an opportunity. It is the opportunity to do things you cannot do or don’t get to do as often when you are married and have children. But it’s also an opportunity to praise God and show Him you believe you are right where you need to be, and that He is right there with you.
Some people with anxiety about getting married take that negative anxiousness and try to kill off as much time possible with useless, counter-productive things to distract them from thinking about being single.
It’s very challenging to be alone with yourself when you are going through negative anxiety. It is a demon we allow to possess us when we are not diligent about combating it properly. It’s interesting that the Gospel reading of this same Sunday with the reading of St. Paul about the unmarried has the scene of Jesus encountering the unclean spirit in the synagogue. It is a demon! Demons are real, and they present themselves in all kinds of ways, including negative anxiety.
It’s understandable to not want to be alone sometimes and need to busy yourself with things to distract yourself from a perhaps unbearable time of dealing with being unmarried. But we must not allow this natural disturbance to take hold and turn into to something worse.
To be single is not a terrible thing. To be single when you really want to be married is not a terrible thing either. I feel for those who really want to get married but have not been able to yet, and perhaps never will. But regardless of why you are unmarried, the fact is you are. Now what will you do with that today? You cannot do anything about the past, and you cannot predict tomorrow. Today is what you have to work with.
I think every person who wants to be married should feel wonderful about that desire. It is a noble desire and we pray that God blesses you with a suitable partner to marry. Keep that desire kindled, because it is from God.
But you must also keep that desire positive, while tending to the things of the Lord this day. He wants to do great things for you and with you today. He is visiting you today as He did in the town of Bethany when Mary chose to be with him. There is much you can do today as an unmarried person for others, for yourself, and in all things for God.
What are your demons related to being unmarried? Anger? Bitterness? Resentment? Jealousy of married friends? Anxiousness? Depression about why you are not married by now? Find out what demons you have with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and by His grace, get rid of them. They are actually working against you being attractive to a potential spouse, who probably cannot notice your beauty because you outwardly display negativity.
Be free! So you are unmarried. It could be worse. You could be married in the way St. Paul describes a few verses before the portion of 1 Corinthians selected in Sunday’s reading; namely, that if you marry, “such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that.” So maybe God is sparing you the affliction that comes with being unhappily married.
Keep doing what you can to change your unmarried status to married. But don’t be obsessed about it via anxiety. You want a person who will not be a distraction away from God, but will lead you to Him. That person is worth waiting for. And if that person never comes, you will have lived each day in the now, tending to the things of the Lord, and you will be happy.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.