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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some Honesty

I should clarify, before I begin that I am generally content with being single.  Like all young women, I do struggle occasionally with loneliness and an unfulfilled desire to be married.  However, I am finding that God's grace is more than sufficient for this.  It's not a greater trial than any other and I take it as a sign that God is working in me.  To desire marriage is to desire a good thing!  To long for that lifetime love is in some ways longing for Eden.  But I'm not always wildly excited to be married. In fact, I find boyfriendlessness to be rather freeing most of the time.  Again, not to say that I never want to marry, I just really enjoy the liberty of deciding how to spend my time and the spontaneity that singleness allows.  I mean, most married women don't decide to fly up to Alaska to work camp for a summer just a few weeks before it happens.  Most married women can't drop everything to drive over to the house of a friend in need or suddenly start writing when the need takes over.  I'm still under my parents and I value their guidance and advice; but for the most part, I'm at the point that I generally make my own schedule and my own decisions.  Honestly, it's just fun.  I like the journey.

But I've been burdened lately.  Most of my good friends are seriously dating, engaged, or married.  And that's fun too.  I get to watch their relationships bloom into lasting love; I get to sing at their weddings and help them set up their new lives.  Now, I'm even getting to hold a few of their newborns.  It's a little weird, but I'm getting used to it.  (Babies are so cute!)  The burden comes from the conversations I have with other single girls.  They feel misunderstood and in some cases, mistreated.  Well-meaning people say hurtful things that can make it hard to be young and single in the church sometimes.  I know that most of these comments are meant to help and the speakers don't have any idea that they just started a ball rolling that will probably end in discontent and loneliness. So as a (very) single young woman, I thought of a few ways that the church family can intentionally help single ladies in their struggle.

1. Be very careful about setting people up on dates.  I've heard it before.  "You'd be perfect for each other!  Just wait and see!"  Again, I know that people really do mean well.  But there really is no way to know if your manipulation of circumstances won't end up to be more awkward and lonely for either one or both of the people involved.  I'm not saying DON'T set people up.  I'm saying, be sensitive and careful.  Assume nothing.  Don't make plans for people or set traps.  (Being taken off guard with that sort of thing can seem like an insult.)  Always ask and notice if the girl you're asking is really comfortable with it or just trying to be nice.  Don't make her feel obligated.  She may be prayerfully considering it, but your pressure could be unwelcome.

2. Don't try to explain God's will.  Recently, I had to leave college and come home for health reasons.  Someone remarked to my mom that God was obviously doing this because my husband wasn't at Northland yet.  But when I got back to school, he'd certainly be there and I'd certainly start dating.  These comments are neither edifying nor true.  Another friend told me that she once had to sit out for several semester.  People were very free with their myriad opinions about God's plans for her.  Some included wild theories about God needing to remove her from school because the wrong guy had a crush on her and He obviously needed to remove her from this potential danger.  Let's get back to our theology.  God is in control of all things.  But beyond what He has revealed in the Word, there is no way to know God's ultimate plan for a specific person.  My being home at this time could have NOTHING to do with marriage.  There's a good chance that He just has a lot of work to do to sanctify me and things to teach me that require me to be home.  The fact is, even saying things like "your time is coming...just wait...he's right around the next corner" doesn't help.  That isn't necessarily true.  God may very well want her to be single until He calls her home and it's better for her to learn to be content with Jesus than it is for her to live for a day that might not be coming in His will for her.  The bottom line?  It's not ours to try to figure it out, just to follow.  Don't make it harder than it is.

3. NEVER imply that contentment is the magic key to the door of marriage.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard this one!  "As soon as you are content, God will bring him along!"  Not only is this not true, it reveals a very dangerous view of God.  Sure, contentment is one thing that God may use prolonged singleness to accomplish in the submitted believer.  But contentment (or any other virtue) is not the price for a boyfriend.  "Contentment"  motivated by an expectation for God to hand you a husband isn't true contentment.  It may happen that soon after you come to accept your singleness, you get married.  That doesn't make it a magic formula.  God isn't a magic genie and he doesn't owe you a husband or any other blessing for that matter.  The fact is, that He is so much more fulfilling than any human can be.  And contentment isn't a one-time achievement.  It's part of the journey of the Christian life.  Single girls are going to struggle with that from time to time.  Accept it.  Know that a lot of discontent women got married and are still discontent.  A lot of content women got married and are now discontent.  There are a lot of content people who aren't married.  And a lot of content women get married and stay content.  WHY?  Because contentment has nothing to do with marriage.  It has everything to do with where you place your security.  God gives blessing to unworthy people because of His grace.  He's just that kind of amazing, good God.  He also withholds very good blessings from people that we would consider worthy. Trying to relate the sin of discontentment to the reason for a person's singleness is like saying that as soon as you buy some syrup then pancakes will appear on the table.  It doesn't make sense in logic and it doesn't work in God's nature.

4. Don't try to tell her why she's still single.  This is an often made mistake and one of the most harmful. Girls get really insecure if guys haven't showed interest in them and if they reach 20 without having dated, chances are that they've already made a list in their heads to explain why.  "I'm too fat."  "I'm not pretty enough."  "I'm too talkative." "I'm not talkative enough." Even "compliments" don't excuse people from trying to "help." Saying things like, "you're too picky" or "you're too smart" is far from considerate.  The fact is that godly girls date because it's God's plan.  Godly girls are single when it's God's plan for them to be single.  Godly marriages happens when God wants it to happen and not a moment before.  Your opinion or approval have no bearing on His plans.

5. Be careful about how you talk about your relationship in her presence.  Some people might not agree with me on this one.  To clarify, I'm not saying hide your engagement pictures.  I'm not saying don't mention the name of the man for whom God is forming love in your heart.  In fact, it is an encouragement to me every time a friend starts dating! I thank God that He still puts people together and I like watching and learning from my dating friends.  I just want to make the point that a lot of dating/engaged girls get into a bragging mode that becomes a stumbling block for single girls in particular.  Those sweet nothings that he whispers into your ear were meant for your ear, not hers.  When you blabber on for hours about your intense love for so and so, it can be difficult for your single friend to relate to your emotional high and she may start to feel estranged from you because of your consuming need to talk about this guy.  One of the friendships that has been a blessing in my life had a defining moment at Thanksgiving this past year.  This friend had started dating only the week before.  She came to visit at a particularly low point for me when I was very sick.  During the course of her visit, she had several opportunities to talk about this new and exciting change in her life.  But not once did she mention her new relationship.  She asked how I was feeling.  She told me funny stories and told me about books she'd be reading.  But she was extremely sensitive to my vulnerable spiritual condition.  She discerned that I was probably already dealing with the emotional struggle of being sick and isolated from my friends.  And she set out to encourage me instead of discuss her new boyfriend.  That is love!  That is self-death!  If this has ever been shown to you, you can understand why it really spoke to me.  It's that kind of maturity and restraint I'm talking about.  (By the way, since that visit, she has shared with me about this special man and I've even had the chance to meet him.  The impression she made on me during that visit was such an encouragement and proof that her focus was on Christ that meeting him was one of the most pleasant boyfriend-meeting situations I've experienced yet.)

6. ENCOURAGE!  Lastly, give single girls opportunities to serve!  Involve them in Bible studies.  Invite them over and treat them like sisters.  Give them hugs.  Teach them new recipes.  Be interested in their passions and help them cultivate those passions for God's glory.  Distract them from their loneliness with the love of Jesus.  Basically, disciple them.  That's what single girls need, just like married girls do.  They need to be prepared for marriage, but more than that they need to be nurtured in the Word of God for the glory of God.  It's not ultimately about marriage.  It's about loving Jesus.  Don't pity them or feel sorry for them.  And don't give them the chance to have pity parties either.  Help them enjoy their singleness and reclaim it for the fullness of LIVING in Christ!

Hopefully, that was edifying.  It wasn't meant to be negative towards the kind attempts of people to comfort those who don't know your married joy.  Let God work and let your single friends enjoy their singleness with your support and love.

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