Is it just me or is everyone getting married? I took a hiatus from Facebook and upon my return, it seemed like a decade had passed though it had only been a few years. While I am elated for my friends, it is difficult to ignore that others are embarking on paths of blissful matrimony while I am just… not. This is one of those painfully awkward things to write about. On one hand, I want to convince folks that singleness isn’t merely a time of misery until marriage knocks at your door and that marriage has a purpose far beyond your earthly happiness. On the other hand, I do not want to be seen as “that poor girl who does not have anyone” and receive tons of messages on Facebook encouraging me to “trust in the Lord” or telling me “your time is sooner than you think.” And then there is that third hand (the one I don’t have so I guess I ought to use my foot) that worries “what if a ‘potential’ suitor reads this and thinks, ‘I better not date her – she’ll try to convince me to marry her.’” After fully considering these options, I’ve decided to write what I wish I could’ve read several years ago.
During college, I began to read Christian books on dating and singleness. What began as an eagerness to do things the “right” way quickly petered into sheer frustration. These books all said the same thing: that I should become the kind of person I want to marry, that singleness is a blessing, that the “one” would come when I wasn’t looking, and that Jesus is my husband. That advice can only take you so far. In this essay, I hope to provide a condensed version of what I have been learning about God, marriage, and myself in the past few months. I am not chiding you to rejoice in singleness if it is marriage you yearn for, but I hope to challenge you to thoughtfully consider that which you crave.
About two weeks before starting graduate school, I had a Skype date with a close college friend. After filling each other in on life, we lamented over the flurry of recent weddings and the gloom of our singledom (my new word for the state of singleness). What was God waiting for? We chuckled over what seemed to be a built-in “prospective husband radar” that would go off each time we met someone to assess his potential. Just a friend? More than a friend? Lifelong mate?
A week later, I was preparing to embark on a nine-hour drive from Brooklyn, New York to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I would be starting graduate school and my dad and I drove in separate cars because all the tools I needed for success (in other words, my clothes, shoes, and jewelry) could not fit in one car. Since I would have so much time, I decided to purchase my first audiobook. My friend had highly recommended The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and I had just read another book on marriage that I really enjoyed (Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married), so I was excited for another. While I had become exasperated with books on dating, reading about marriage was refreshing. I figured if I read one more then maybe I would be “ready” for marriage and God would drop a tall, dark, handsome man straight out of the sky (on one knee of course). That’s not quite what happened. Instead, this book brought me to my own knees because it called me out on my unrealistic expectations of marriage. I had been knocking on the doors of heaven demanding that God put me out of my misery without realizing that I did not have the slightest clue of what I was asking for. And even more embarrassing, I lacked the capacity to receive my demand.
And so, Marriage 101 began. Tim Keller wrote, “We look for our spouses to do what only God, and not man, can do for us: give us a sense of meaning and purpose while providing emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization.” It was all starting to make sense. My conceptualization of marriage was what I imagined, hoped, and longed for it to be, not what God actually designed it to be. I have a knack for relentlessly pursuing my own desires and appearing bewildered when I find myself disappointed. In other aspects of life, such as buying a car, I will read an instruction manual or seek out an expert to obtain the information I need. But I had dropped the ball when it came to marriage. Keller writes, “If God invented marriage then it is in the best interests of those who enter it to understand his purposes for it.” Marriage was created to refine our character and be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ. By crushing marriage under the weight of my “cosmically impossible” expectations, I was placing burdens that only God can bear – meaning for life, moral compass, hope for the future, self identity – on my future husband. The trouble was not within the institution of marriage, but within me.
As if that wasn’t earthshattering enough, the end of the book challenged me to put all I had learned into practice. And when that happened, I literally started talking back to the audiobook (it was, after all, talking to me). Keller had written that there are seasons in which singles must actively choose not to seek marriage, such as during a transition or after emotionally charged events. During these times, your judgment may be cloudy and you need deep Christian friendship rather than dates or marriage. I was in the “transition” camp and felt God prodding me to be single for a year. The thought popped into my head one evening and since my prospective husband radar never runs out of batteries, I knew it wasn’t my own. I decided to take a few days to pray about it, but I knew I didn’t need to – I was just looking for an excuse to conveniently forget about this charge. But something was happening in my heart. I was realizing that marriage isn’t all its chalked up to be. It’s beautiful and wonderful and excellent, but it is like everything else in the life of a Christian – not the ends but the means. It’s another tool that God uses to make you more like him and less like, well, yourself. Its purpose is not to be a nonstop cuddly sleepover, but rather two people seeking him and growing together. And so, I said yes to God. Not in an obedient moment of heartfelt adoration with the sun shining and the birds singing, but the way a 4-year-old would when her mother asks if she’ll eat those mushy vegetables before she goes outside (like she even has a choice).
It’s been about a month since I’ve said yes to God and I’ve never been happier. Of course, there are moments of “can someone just talk to me for hours until I fall asleep?” But those are becoming rare. There is a difference between being single by choice and being single by circumstance. The former gives you a sense of peace while the latter can make you feel like a puppy left out in the rain. I am starting to believe (I never thought I would see the day I would actually write this) that singleness really is a gift. It was never meant to be a state of misery – I had built my own torture chamber and locked myself inside. And though I still hope to meet someone, this desire is no longer accompanied by a sense of urgency.
Towards the end of the book, Keller references a quote that I keep replaying in my head: “I may meet someone and walk down the aisle because God is so good to me. I may never have another date because God is so good to me.” I am convinced that this season has nothing to do with marriage and everything to do with me trusting him for the details, big and small. I would love to walk down the aisle one day, but right now I need to learn to say “yes” and “I do” to God instead of chugging along in my own strength. It’s been 24 years and counting and my way has a 100% failure rate. And yet, my Father always manages to catch me.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
-Isaiah 43:3, NIV