The older we get, the more we understand the value in reading about the lives and works of those who’ve gone before us in the Church. Solomon was right, you know. No matter what we think we’re going through, there really is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Oh sure it might look like times have changed—what with the rapid advancements in technology that have us speaking in hashtags, as well as fashion phenomenons like skinny jeans and the reocurrence of the romper—but ultimately, we are not the first people to ever struggle. And we’re certainly not the first people to ever struggle with singleness. Nor are we the first people to have a longing that remains unfulfilled.
It’s nice to know we’re not alone, you know? Of course it’s nice to know it here in the 21st century, but it’s also nice to know that our struggles span space and time and are not uniquely ours. It’s good to be reminded that we are created for so much more than marriage–we’re called to follow hard after God and pursue holiness, no matter what our relationship status may (or may not) be.
Hebrews 11 is a divine mandate to read Christian biography. The unmistakable implication of the chapter is that, if we hear about the faith of our forefathers (and mothers), we will ‘lay aside every weight and sin’ and ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us’ (12:1). If we asked the author, ‘How shall we stir one another up to love and good works?’ (10:24), his answer would be: ‘Through encouragement from the living (10:25) and the dead‘ (chap. 11). Christian biography is the means by which ‘body life’ cuts across the generations…Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to overcome the inertia of mediocrity. Without them I tend to forget what joy there is in relentless labor and aspiration.” Brothers, Read Christian Biography by John Piper
We’re sure there are a plethora of living people we all should know too, but for a moment let’s pause and pay our respects to the dead ones. Because chances are you might not know about some of these saints who walked this road before you, and there’s so very much to be learned from their lives of faithfulness.
Amy Carmichael [1867 – 1951]
Amy Carmichael grew up in Ireland and spent much of her life as a missionary in India. She began an orphanage, founded a mission, and ministered primarily to young girls who were suffering—all as a single woman. Elisabeth Elliot was so inspired and influenced by Carmichael’s life and ministry, she wrote her biography, A Chance to Die. The title comes from Carmichael’s now famous quote: “Missionary life is simply a chance to die.”
Corrie ten Boom [1892 – 1983]
Corrie ten Boom lived 91 years and never married, but that’s not what she’s remembered for. A Dutch Christian, ten Boom and her family helped Jewish people during World War II—some even hid in the walls of their home. Eventually, her family was imprisoned in a concentration camp and everyone died except for Corrie, who went on to minister to Jewish people and became an author and speaker. To read more about Corrie ten Boom, check out The Hiding Place.
C.S. Lewis [1898 – 1963]
C.S. Lewis, British theologian, professor, and author of Mere Christianity, remained a bachelor most of his life until his later years when he entered into a marriage contract with an American divorcee, Joy Davidman Gresham, so she could remain living in the U.K. The two were only married for 3 years, as Joy was soon diagnosed with a terminal bone cancer. Through the Shadowlands is an account of their love story, and A Grief Observed is Lewis’s raw account of dealing with the aftermath of Joy’s death. To read more about Lewis’s entire life, check out the biography, C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer [1906 – 1945]
People might’ve heard of Bonhoeffer’s classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, but many are less familiar with his life. He was a German pastor and theologian who was imprisoned at a concentration camp for being involved in an assassination plot against Hitler. When he was 39, Bonhoeffer was hanged. Sadly, he was also engaged to a girl named Maria at the time, too. Eric Metaxas recently wrote Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and it is an enthralling account of not only Bonhoeffer’s life, but the theological struggles that took place in Germany and across Europe during this period of time.
John Stott [1921 – 2011]
John Stott was an Anglican cleric who was single for all of his 90 years. He wrote extensively on various topics throughout his ministry, including his singleness. Stott didn’t feel particularly called to a life of bachelorhood when he was young, but decided after two failed relationships that God meant for him to remain unmarried. Stott went on to be named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2005. You can get a better picture of Stott by reading his friends’ stories in Portraits of a Radical Disciple: Recollections of John Stott’s Life and Ministry.
Lottie Moon [1840 – 1912]
Anyone who grew up in a Southern Baptist church has heard of Charlotte “Lottie” Moon. If there were a patron saint of SBC missions, Lottie would be it. As a single woman who spent 40 years in China on the mission field, she is credited with laying the foundation for international mission support that SBC churches have to this day. Lottie was fluent in several languages, attended a female seminary, and
preached taught the Word. To get to know Lottie better, both her struggles and her heart, check out a collection of her letters, Send the Light.
Hannah More [1745 – 1833]
Hannah More was single and a contemporary of John Newton and William Wilberforce. She endured a broken engagement and struggled with depression and loneliness in obedience to the call God place on her life to lead reforms in Britain, specifically against slavery. To learn about More’s fascinating life as an women’s education reformer, playwright, wealthy evangelical, and more, get a copy of Karen Swallow Prior’s biography Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist.
Bonus: Apostle Paul [AD 5 – AD 67]
Okay, so maybe we’ve all heard of Paul. And maybe there’s some debate on whether or not the dude was even single. But regardless of marital status, Paul understood suffering in a way many of us will never know. Beth Moore’s book, To Live Is Christ, is a beautiful walk through the life of the Apostle Paul, and it will leave anyone—married or single—with a renewed determination to live a life worthy of the calling they have received in Christ.
What other dead people do you think Christian singles need to know? Share them in the comments below!