Our Identity Is Not in Our Marital Status


If someone asked you “Who are you?” and you had to answer without taking time to think about it, what would you say? The chances are good that you would define yourself in one of two ways: through your relationships or through your work.

By and large, the church has been good about teaching us to avoid the latter error, reminding us frequently that we’re more than what we do for a living. This is a much-needed reminder (especially for those of us who live in places like the Washington, DC, area, where, according to the secular mindset, what you do for a living is everything).

But when it comes to defining ourselves through our relationships . . . that’s a different story. This is the kind of error that today’s church is all too prone to let us get away with, or even encourage.

And this error creeps into our thinking in the most insidious ways, coloring everything we look at or think about. Here are just a few examples I’ve seen in recent months:

  • A woman’s name is dragged into a political scandal, and people protest, “Leave her alone, she’s a wife and mother!” And the single, childless woman following all this thinks, What if she weren’t? Would she still be worth defending?
  • An anti-porn speaker asks men to consider the fact that a given woman in a pornographic video is someone’s daughter or sister, and some think, But what if she weren’t? Does she have value without any of those relationships?
  • We hear of a man who died in an accident or of a terrible disease, and then we’re told that the worst part is that he left a wife and children. But what if he hadn’t? Would that make his suffering and death somehow more acceptable?

This is an extremely tricky minefield to navigate. For one thing, it’s natural to concentrate on how others may be suffering because of their loved one’s trauma or absence — most if not all of us have been through such suffering before and can easily relate to it and sympathize with it in others. And it’s especially hard to think of children suffering such a permanent and traumatic loss. For another thing, because our relationships are so vital and valuable, so integral to our lives, we can hardly think of ourselves or others apart from them.

And that is not a bad thing in itself. It’s our very nature to live in relationship to one another and to God; it’s how we were created. So as I’ve stressed throughout this book, community matters, especially to Christians. We need it to thrive. And because we’re all so familiar with that need, we often end up seeing everyone and everything through that particular lens.

The problem starts when we make the leap, as many of us all too easily do, to believing that our identity lies in those relationships. That’s what leads us to place more value on those who have more and better relationships and less on those who haven’t had the opportunity to form as many. And as for those who once had them, such as the divorced — well, as Christian divorcée Dena Johnson writes, “It seems as if people everywhere want you to wear a large, scarlet letter ‘D’ around your neck. . . . You are often scorned by the church because of your past.”

All this draws us away from the truth that our real identity is found in God, our Creator and Redeemer. This is the ultimate relationship we were created for, the relationship that is accessible to everyone who places his or her faith in Christ.

This is, at least in part, what pastors mean when they say, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” Before Christ, the differences that keep us apart fall away. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist or don’t matter but it does mean they don’t have to divide us. We can reach past them to accept, support, and love each other. As Paul unforgettably wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

If we keep our focus on this truth, we can learn to readjust our thinking. With that readjustment would come some important changes in the way we in the church view each other, and consequently in the way we treat each other. Doubtless it would take some time and there would be bumps along the way, as there are in most worthwhile endeavors.

But with divine guidance and grace, the result could be a truly unified, truly functioning body of Christ — as opposed to a body that’s not working right because there are a bunch of leftover parts sitting around that no one knew what to do with. Okay, my metaphor is a little strained, but you get the idea. When we know who a person truly is — a beloved creation of God, bearing His image — other parts of his or her identity are less likely to get in the way of a loving relationship with that person. And that ultimately leads to a church where single people feel welcomed and cared for, not inferior or invisible.

Book cover image copyright Baker Books. Illustration designed by Heidi Allums. Excerpt taken from “One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church” by Gina Dalfonzo (Baker Books, 2017). Used with permission.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog, and the author of “One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church” (Baker Books, June 2017).

Articles on the BreakPoint website are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BreakPoint. Outside links are for informational purposes and do not necessarily imply endorsement of their content.

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  • gladys1071

    You are right that people are valuable whether they are single or married, divorced, widowed before the eyes of God. The problem is that as human beings we cannot see God and God is not right here in flesh in blood, we were designed for relationship with other people, and our relationship with God is different then our relationship with people.. It isn’t for no reason that God said “it is not good for man to be alone”. It isn’t for no reason that God made it for human’s to have parents, he could have made it that we would hatch out of eggs, but he didn’t God saw it fit that each of us have a mom and a dad, and yes in a lot of ways our relationships do define us and i actually think he meant it that way and it is not a bad thing at all.

    God is our creator and yes we can have relationship with him, but God made us to have relationships, with our parents, siblings, friends, children, spouses.

    I have been happily married for 20 years, i got married at 21, so i don’t know how it would feel to be single for an extended period of time, i am sure it must be lonely and discouraging at times. It just comes to show that we were meant for relationship and to not be alone, and it is not bad. Now it is true that our culture elevates romantic love and makes it to be the end all of life and that makes it difficult for those that are single and longing for marriage. That is why i think that it was a good thing that before the reformation single men/women could become monks and retreat into a community with others and serve God and not feel alone. It is too bad that in our modern life we don’t have such alternatives for single people, it breeds loneliness, envy and frustration and comparison. It is also too bad that married couples tend to forget their single friends once they get married (of course not all).

    I really do feel for single people especially in the church when the church tends to be focused on married couples and parents.

    • Jim Lee Jr.

      That is because the church promotes the Cult of Marriage and Children.

      • gladys1071

        I think you are right it does to a certain extent. Like I said it is too bad because it breeds resentment, frustration and comparison.

    • Sherrill

      Would you like to become a monk and live in community? I’m guessing not…if so, then why is that “good enough” for single people?

      • gladys1071

        I would if I was single or if I were to become single again. If I were to become a widow in the future I would consider going into a nunnery . I never said that other singles should do the same only that I wish their was more community for today’s singles.

    • bosco222

      Many competent studies have shown that married people volunteer less, spend less time with their friends and neighbors, are less active in their community, exercise less and weigh more than single people. If anyone is isolated and alone, it is well-proven to be the married demographic.

      • gladys1071

        you are probably right, a lot of married couples get busy with kids, and their sense of community diminishes because they have a family to take care of now. My husband and i try not to be that way, we spend time with our single friends, though i agree it is different when you are married.

  • jason taylor

    To be fair, “She is someone’s sister” can be interpreted in more then one way. It can mean “She is worthless outside of her sisterlyness”. Or it can be a rhetorical shorthand for “She is a person and possesses the qualities of personhood, of which sisterliness is an example.” It is really no different then Pirates of Penzance saying, “He is an Englishman(He is an Englishman).” While truly he would not be less a person if he was a Russian or French or Turk or Prussian or(heaven forbid!)perhaps Italian drawing attention to the fact that he is an Englishman is drawing attention to the fact that he is a person. A steer cannot be an Englishman because it is not a person. It is rather an Englishman’s dinner. While Russians, French, Turks, and Prussians are all persons and thus can be imagined as becoming Englishmen. And even Eye-tal-ians.