Aside from this one random guy I met who was thinking about becoming a Catholic priest, and a certain professor in Abilene who wore all black... I don't think I've ever actually met a single Christian who was not interested in finding a mate. Let me point out, that I am NOT talking about being single as an inevitable state before getting married, but trying to pretend as if your lack of a dating relationship is some sort of spiritual discipline on your part. Being not-yet-married is not the same as making a conscious decision to forsake the possibility of love and marriage in order to pursue the Lord's work wholeheartedly.
More than five years ago, as a bright-eyed, career-focused college student, I decided to pursue singleness for a year. My decision was not well thought-out; on the heels of a breakup... more like a string of ridiculous boys, and after a major natural disaster destroyed my life as I knew it, I decided to drop out of the dating-and-romance race for a while. I mean it really hadn't been going so well anyways, so why not quit while I was behind...
As I came to depend more on prayer, Scripture and meditation to exert control over my life, I not only persevered through my new single life, but found it to be a profound learning experience. I realized how much I had bought into lies about men. The world around me would have me believe that they were juvenile, chauvinistic, or stupid and that to be married to them was to mother them or whip them into some sort of submission, or to forget that I ever had an opinion about anything in order to submit to their male authority. All of this, of course, is complete crap. Some men can be juvenile and chauvinistic. Others can be kind and generous. Some can be manipulative and greedy. Others can be wise and strong. Really, there is no eternal flaw that all men have, nor is there some magic formula for successful marriage. People are who they are, and every couple has to figure out how to make their own healthy partnership. Furthermore, I found that during this time I made some wonderful male friends. I know it sounds a little crazy, but I feel pretty strongly that these friends in many ways taught me what a good guy really looks like up close. So much of the time what I thought was good, wasn't really all that good after all. I also I found I had much more time to devote to my journey with the Lord because I wasn't obsessing over some guy. Now I'll be honest... my peers were often boy crazy and pushing me to think/talk/gossip about guys, but I tried to surround myself with women who didn't define themselves by their relationship status.
Now, not quite six years down the road, I haven't had a serious dating relationship (even though my initial plan was for a year) and I love my life. My journey had been a profound experience of trusting God to provide exactly what I need in His time. I would like to get married and have a family, I think I always have.
So, why am I blogging about singleness?
"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord" (I Corinthians 7: 32-35).
In most Christian circles, finding a Christian husband seems to be one of the marks of being a woman of great faith. But Paul explains that following God with reckless abandon requires people to leave behind all earthly attachments that distract them from the Lord's affairs.
This passage cut me right to the heart. I do want to offer my whole life to my God's service. I long for my heart to be aligned with His. In many ways, while I have been single I have focused a great deal of my time and energy on ministry opportunities in ways my married (and even dating) counterparts simply can't. While I still definitely want to be married and have a family, I can see how in my own life I've been able to dedicate my life to God's service, and how that would look much different if I were married.
In the last few years that I have been single, I have been shocked to hear some of the assumptions people make about single Christian women. No, I don't feel like God owes me a husband and I don't feel disappointed that one has not appeared yet. No, my father wasn't absent or abusive or bad to my mother. He is a good Christian man who has been a faithful, loving husband and father for more than 30 years. And no, I am not angry at men, hiding from men, gay or sexually confused.
Yet I do understand why so many folks need to "explain" my choice. Our culture, both the larger culture and our Western, protestant, church culture, has no place for single women. There are no official channels for women who wish to dedicate their lives to the Lord's service. My faith tradition in particular is weak in this area as the only way to advance in formal service to the church as a woman is to become an elder or deacon's wife. Truth be told, I don't believe that most people consciously thinks I am damaged goods. But I do suspect, based on the concerned looks and pitiful glances of church folk and family members, many of my brothers and sisters think I am settling for a lesser version of God's will, a sadder, lonelier life than what God intended for me while in fact, I feel nothing less than blessed.
Although I love my life, I admit that, in fits of girlishness, I have indulged in imagining what my perfect match would be like. I have moments of doubt or frustration, and there are times when the lies of the Evil One creep in and make me feel that I am not good enough. But each day I'm coming to learn that the choice I'm faced with is not really choosing to pursue marriage or pursue singleness. The only choice I have to make is to pursue Jesus. In this life, I choose Jesus and gladly follow His lead wherever we may go. I believe that whatever I give up will be restored to me in ways I cannot possibly fathom. God is my protector and provider. I trust Him (well... I'm trying to at least) and I refuse to let a little thing like my relationship status steal the peace in my heart even for a minute.
I'm just saying... :-)
Sunday, May 22, 2011
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Once again, a beautiful and thought-provoking post.
My brother didn't marry until he was almost 37, and he found focus and guidance in the Corinthian passage as well. In particular I remember one conversation where he gently but firmly corrected a friend who thought my brother would "take comfort from the passage." That implied his single state was something to be mourned or endured, as opposed to a time when he could explore freely his capacity to serve God. He saw it as something to take encouragement from, that God uses us according to His purpose no matter what our situation might be; but more importantly, that serving God should be our primary focus as opposed to "the cares of this world." He said not too long ago that living this lesson had stood him in good stead as he encountered challenging points in his life (both single and married) where his role in the Kingdom seemed obscured by those worldly cares and more difficult to fulfill.
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