NOT SINGLED OUT

Living singly part of God's kingdom

Humans like to ask questions. It’s how we get to know each other and maintain closeness. It’s how we learn when encouragement or celebration or prayer is necessary. Questioning leads us to truth and freedom. But questions offer us more than insight into specific lives and stories. The kinds of questions we default to can also point to what a culture values.

 

There’s that friend who’s married without kids. The silent sufferer who cries prayerful pleas on her knees while her husband holds her tight. Her current task is dependence, not bearing children she so desperately wants to mother.

She fights for joy in her trial, but the questions of outsiders don’t stop.

 

There’s the story laced with singleness. She hit 30 last year and loves life. Sure her spouseless existence stings from time to time if she chooses to ponder what she doesn’t have. But there is much to be thankful for, and out of her abundance, she gives to others.

She’s grateful for God’s guidance, but the inquiries of outsiders don’t stop.

 

The point is not that the questions and suggestions are present. The point is that they are prevalent. The church should be a place where all statuses can flourish, and when the focus of conversation is narrowed on what is natural, we miss opportunities for the supernatural to rain its blessings.

But more than that, it speaks to what the culture prizes. Luke 6:45 tells us that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” If the first topic we turn to when greeting one another has to do with status, then we need to ask ourselves how much we treasure earthly things in comparison to eternal things. Marriage and parenthood are beautiful pictures of the gospel and wonderful gifts from God, but by the way some conversations proceed, you would think they are the point of our existence. And it makes sense. When God’s good design gets sprinkled with the lies of the culture, stirred up, and sold to the masses as real love, no congregation is safe. [Disclaimer: please take what I’m about to say with a heaping spoonful of sisterly love] I’m afraid many marriages in the church have fallen prey to this cultural phenomenon and in fact, perpetuate ideas like marriage being the best thing that can ever happen to you and motherhood being the highest calling. So it’s no wonder that the first topic that comes to mind in social situations is where others fall on the marriage and pregnancy spectrum.

I dream of a day when the first questions in the gathering of God’s children have nothing to do with status. I dream of a day when upon greeting one another, Jesus’ followers inquire about His Kingdom.

Ya, that’s great that you’re dating someone or hoping to have kids in the next year. I’m sincerely glad to hear about those things. I’m also interested in how God is using you to build that which is not of this world. Who are you discipling? And if you aren’t, when are you going to start praying about who to pursue? What is God teaching you right now? He calls us into statuses and stories with eternal outcomes in mind, and our questions can have the ability to call what is long-lasting out of the everyday. As followers of Christ, let’s purpose to trade what is instinctive for the richer conversations that challenge, uplift, and have eternal value.

Love (I promise),

Rachelle

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Dear One,

How did you get here? From far off, it seemed like a nice place to wander. It looked like a desert oasis, bursting with life and water to quench your weary soul. But as you got closer, your feet dragging in the sand, the facade began to fade.

Dear One,

How long have you tarried here? Even after you sensed its guise and the veneer faded from green to gloom, you lingered, hoping the broken cisterns would soon bubble over with life-giving water. If only given enough time, what you imagined from afar would emerge from the dust. So you thought.

Dear One,

How do you not remember? You’ve been here before. The dry well that promised life, the mirage of green meadows, the sun that only scorches. These surroundings breed familiarity.

Dear One,

How did you find rest before? You didn’t dig in the dust. You didn’t scan the skyline for the next quick fix. You simply silenced your heart. And then, as the old hymn rings, I tuned it to sing my grace. Your tired soul washed over with relief and your lungs called out songs of loud praise.

Beloved,

Surrender.

And the reply: “Jesus, I’m yours”

Ever notice how many Old Testament couples met at a well?  Abraham’s servant met Rebecca at a well on behalf of Isaac. A young shepherdess simply going about her business, being her sweet self to the stranger and his camels and voila! She gets a ring and an all-expense paid trip to meet her beloved.  A generation later, Rachel was a sight for sore eyes when Jacob gazed upon her fine form strolling over the hill to water her sheep at a well. In a sudden burst of manliness, he herculesed a large stone that was covering the well, watered her sheep, and then planted a kiss on her like a hero that saved the day. And last but not least, the one and only Moses came to Zipporah’s rescue when some overbearing shepherds were trying to intimidate her and her sisters at a well. Their father insisted on meeting the man who stood up to the aggressors and then offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. Apparently, people’s marriageable qualities tend to surface at wells.

All of this well-matchmaking makes sense, for where else are you most likely to run into people in Bible times in the desert? A well was a place of gathering, a life-giving source that people had to work into their daily schedules. Sadly, I can’t think of a comparable modern equivalent. Water comes in pipes and life is more hurried. When simple necessities come easy, things that take time feel bothersome, and we’re left without natural built-in breaks to slow and contemplate or even maybe get to know the stranger next to us.

If you’re like me, then hearing stories about chance interactions and happy endings can sometimes leave you feeling dejected and almost willing to give up your smart phone and modern plumbing to trade for a simpler time. Perhaps you’ve risked your heart one too many times and are just plain weary of singleness, heartache, and the daily grind without companionship. I don’t have an antidote for singleness. I don’t have a cure for the desire for marriage and a family. I do, however know one more story about another pair that met at a well.

 

A woman, worn out by life, took the long walk to draw water in the middle of the day. She was particular about the time because she would rather endure the heat than the sideways glances of the other well visitors at a cooler hour. You see, her choices in life gave plenty of fuel for town busybodies, and so she walked in solitude.  Picture her, coming into the clearing. Her mouth is dry and her forehead damp from the desert’s warmth . Her longing gaze is fixed on the well and her mission, until she notices a man, sitting there like he’s patiently waiting for an appointment. Disappointment wrinkles her brow, and hesitancy slows her steps. “At least he’s an Israelite,” she thinks. “He won’t talk to me, a Samaritan AND a woman. I’ll just fill my jar and leave in peace.”

She senses his gaze as she makes her approach. Imagine her surprise when, against all cultural norms, the man speaks.  His request is for water, and a discussion ensues.  His tone is strong but gentle. His manner is more like a long lost friend than a stranger from a hostile land. He is familiar with her wandering and her daily plight of journeying to quench her thirst, not just for literal water, but for companionship, for soul-filling and completion. “You won’t find it there,” says the stranger as he looks at the well. “You won’t find it there, either,” as he gazes towards the city that houses her hurts and past lovers. “Everyone who drinks from those waters will be thirsty again, but I have water that becomes a spring welling up into eternal life.”

At the well, her maternal ancestors found love and matrimony. She found a different kind of groom. She found the Messiah, Jesus. “Sir give me this water so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water!” You who are familiar with well-beaten paths and the daily grind: listen to her plea when she recognizes that natural means aren’t enough and drinks deeply from the living water offered by her Savior.

 

We all have access to that well. Won’t you meet me there? It’s where your Savior will interrupt, remind, and satisfy. You will fill your jar and leave in peace.

 

Love,

Rachelle

I’ll be honest. For much of my journey with Jesus, a central doctrine of Scripture not only puzzled me, but actually made me squirm whenever it was brought up. No I’m not talking about any secondary buzz topics like women in ministry, signs, gifts, or pre vs. post-trib. It’s actually a topic that’s found in the New and Old testament, talked about by Jesus, and builds a chasse for the gospel itself. What foundational truth could possibly elicit my disinclination? My aversion was to none other than the comparison of Christ and the church to marriage.

I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for my repulsion. Perhaps my it stemmed from focusing too much on the physical side of marriage. Or maybe it was odd to think of male believers being referred to as a bride. Add a bit of agitation from unmet desires for marriage, and it was enough to make me cringe whenever a pastor decided to bring it up.  If you happen to live and breathe ministry and podcasts like I do, then you know it’s a theme that comes up quite a bit. Given that it’s also a common focus in God’s Word, I felt guilty for my revulsion.

Sick of the awkward vibes, I recently embarked on a path of discovery. My end goal was to value the concept of Christ and the church as much as Scripture does. After taking a good look at passages pertaining to marriage, I decided that the key to fully understanding why marriage is used as a gospel parallel was to examine Jewish traditions for marriage. I wasn’t disappointed. The result was more fruitful and encouraging than I could have ever imagined. Mind if I conduct a quick cultural anthropology lesson?

In Jewish tradition, there are two parts to a wedding ceremony, the “kiddushin”[i], or betrothal, and the “nissuin”[ii], or nuptial ceremony. A betrothal is different from what we understand an engagement to be today. Engagements can be broken off easily, but a betrothal in historic Jewish culture involved a contract that required an actual divorce to dissolve[iii]. The couple was wedded, but not yet living together, and the time frame was usually specified in the contract as to what needed to happen before the ceremony and wedding feast could take place. We see a similar occurrence in the Bible with Jacob and Rachel.  The contract in this case was done between the bridegroom and the bride’s father, but Talmud expert Maurice Lamm says that, contrary to many cultures at the time, the consent of the bride was always required in Jewish custom[iv]. This is evident in the love story between Rebecca and Isaac. Lamm also remarks on the importance of the totality of the Betrothal, which basically sums up “till death do us part.” [v]  It is also imperative to note that the only spouse who signs the Betrothal contract in the presence of witnesses is the bridegroom, and his contract displays how he will provide for her[vi].

The redemptive implications of this model as it relates to our “marriage” with Christ are profound. Christ came to earth on a mission of betrothal. We see evidence of this at the beginning of his three year ministry in John 3:28-30, when John the Baptist calls Jesus the “bridegroom” and designates himself as the best man, preparing the way for the one who would woo His bride.  Jesus went on to pay a high price on the cross, supplying a verbal contract that promised to prepare a place for his followers before coming back to retrieve them in John 14. Notice how Christ is the one doing all the work. He does not require us to sign the contract; He only requires our consent, “because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Furthermore, Ephesians 2:8 explains that we do not do any of the saving, but it is “by grace [we] have been saved.” Ephesians 4:30 adds that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit “until the day of redemption.”

So listen up, church! We have a contract, a seal, and a promise of an eventual wedding ceremony as our groom prepares a place for us to dwell with Him for eternity. I hear from married friends that engagements can be a rough business, and our time of betrothal on earth is no piece of cake either. Our groom told us it would be difficult, but He also promises a beautiful homecoming to His Father’s house that will terminate the betrothal era and begin part two, the “nissuin.”

During a Jewish nuptial ceremony, there is much celebration and feasting. In the same way, Christ will be together with His bride to enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb. Indeed, it is what He refers to during the last supper with His disciples, saying, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18)  In Revelation 19:7-8, we see a glimpse of what is to come as all of heaven says, “ ‘Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Unearthing these beautiful truths added so much more depth to my perception of the gospel. Rather than being squeamish about the gospel metaphor between Christ and His Bride, I now stand in awe. Even as a single person, the picture of marriage holds so much more meaning for me. If the God of the universe has invited me into this covenant relationship and chooses in His love to provide an earthly picture for all eyes to gaze at, then marriage becomes relevant to everyone.

These themes, when preached on, should cause us to marvel at the Gospel. They should cause us to think on ways to be a better follower of Christ as part of His bride, the church. They should cause us to pray for our fellow married brothers and sisters, that they would mirror Christ’s redemptive plan to the world.  Lastly, instead of allowing those kinds of messages to fuel insecurities, they should bolster the confidence we have in Christ’s signed, sealed, and delivered betrothal.

 

 

 

[i] Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage. New York: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc. 1980. pp. 148-160.

[ii] Lamm, pp. 160-168

[iii] Lamm, p. 154

[iv] Lamm, p. 153

[v] Lamm, p. 161

[vi] Lamm, p. 154, 158

Beauty in distress rescued by a worthy suitor… A perfect match disrupted by calamity or misunderstanding, and fate or heart-following or serendipity must find a way to set things right… Sparks fly in a moment where two eyes meet for the first time, and instincts assure a future together… Lovely stories that wrap you up in a blanket with a bowl of popcorn, leaving you feeling starry-eyed and hopeful as a child and somewhat incomplete as you mature.

…………………………………………………

The kind of earthly love I’m after isn’t as romantic as those in story books. It can’t be, for they, with their strife and sacrifice and rewarding endings bear a slight but unsatisfying resemblance to what I already have in Jesus. The heroes and lovers in fairytales are not even worth comparing with the Word who became Immanuel. He is unlike any human that ever lived! He is the ideal mixture of strength, courage and tenderness- a true picture of manhood. What’s more, he wasn’t after that which was beautiful or breathtaking like the protagonist in so many other stories. He came for the lost, the overlooked, the ones clothed in rags. When he walked the earth, His piercing gaze saw right into the hearts of others. Yet even knowing all the details about the people He walked and dined with, He chose to love and serve them anyway, extending the same graces to all who follow Him today. I am among these graced subjects, redeemed by a story with a plot to challenge all the common ones.

He moved heaven and earth to win my heart, leaving a throne to walk rough Roman roads in human feet. The rocky paths led to an unjust trial he bore with grace and a cross-shaped punishment in the greatest display of His power. One word, one flinch, one breath could have forever silenced His mockers, ended the agony, and unleashed His supreme heavenly army upon matchless oppressors. But he knew the true enemy, a dragon with an Achilles heel. And so, exceeding power shone with every clang of the hammer, every unsilenced critic, and every lot cast for His stolen garments. Suppression in the slaughter. Even as death hung His head, all was not lost. The battle was taken to the grave, where the dragon realized his error. As morning light poured into a cave on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Jesus stood victorious, a Savior to rival all other tales of salvation, romantic or otherwise.

This Prince of All sought my heart in a story that spans millennia and he’ll have my heart forevermore. To seek a better provider or pursuer would be fruitless. To dig in the earth for that which He has promised me in the stars is silly.

And yet, He allows some of His children the privilege of retelling His story in a covenant called marriage, little caves that let in the morning light. That’s the kind of earthly love I’m after- the kind that humbles itself into its proper place, knowing that it can’t compete with the bigger story. Instead, it finds ways to authenticate it- A little love that finds its source, passion, and purpose in the unconditional love of Jesus.

It’s not the kind of stuff you’ll find in the sparks of romantic novels or the appeal of Hallmark movies. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll find in quieter corners, where revolving front doors, early morning plea-ful prayers, and wrinkled smiles build God’s kingdom on the coals of covenant-blessed love.

That’s what I’m after. Anything less is at worse, futile competition and at best, an ignorant substitute.

Single readers: have you had thoughts of settling? Have you pondered fruitless relationships in your prolonged season of waiting? You need to remember that true faith is found when the promises of God are enough, like they were for those awaiting a Savior in the centuries of silence before Jesus burst onto the scene. Or perhaps you find yourself holding out for the sparks and perfection of fairy tales. If so, you need to hear that a marriage that builds God’s kingdom can’t last on sparks alone- it takes coals to warm and light the dark. And we all need to remember what we already have in Christ- the One in whom our hearts are filled to the fullest, with whom all other little loves are humbled.

Love,

Rachelle

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

 

There are seasons in my walk with Christ where singleness feels less like a gift and more like a weight. And when it gets too heavy, I’m left with no choice but to come to the cross with it. There Jesus shines light on the murky waters I’ve been swimming in. Together, we do some soul-searching and unearth the same lies that continue to creep in time and time again. I painstakingly trade again that which is earthly for what rust and moth can’t touch, sometimes with a heart that cries “I believe, help my unbelief!” I sit at His feet as long as it takes for the fog to clear so that Jesus is my focus once again. Consider this post a personal pep talk for times such as these- a sieve to cleanse the cloudy water.

 

On Marriage:

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22

I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.” 1 Corinthians 7:26-28

“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32 

Marriage as a status is not an upgrade in God’s Kingdom, it’s a lateral move from one gifting into another. It’s a season granted when God sees it as more fitting, more pertinent to your growth and the furthering of His kingdom. That being said, why is its prospect generally so much more appealing than flying solo? What draws us into romantic storylines and forever promises?

Biology aside, I believe it’s because the Gospel is compelling, and marriage reflects that. God designed us with the ability to be in awe of intimacy and sacrificial love. We may spend and squander that awe on lesser things, but that doesn’t subtract from the value of the original purpose of marriage, nor the real reasons we are captivated by it in the first place. As believers, we have the ability to orient our hearts to the tune of the Gospel. We can remain fascinated by earthly marriage and even desirous of it. But in the fascination, we are in a posture to reflect and revel in the deeper, purer devotion of our Savior to His bride. It needs to be more about what is already ours for eternity than what could temporarily be granted for an earth-life.

 

On the Sovereignty of God:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13

God only ever withholds what isn’t best for us. He who orders the universe doesn’t just care about your story but how that story fits into the bigger picture. His primary targets are His glory on display and working things together for your good. In His perceptive abilities, He sees when the things we ask for are scorpions and serpents in disguise. In this truth, we find trust and surrender to the faithfulness of our good Father.

 

On Emotions:

“Whatever is TRUE….Think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Emotions won’t always lead you to what’s best. It’s often quite the opposite. When emotions meet God’s will, it can be really powerful, but don’t feed emotions not yet based in truth.

 

On my Death Date:

“Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” Psalm 39:5

Life is SO short. And emotions aside, the only reason to give up singleness is if it will help build God’s Kingdom better. At the end of my life, I don’t want to look back and see a nice earthly kingdom crumbling in the wake of my death, no matter how much romance and adventure it afforded. As a woman called to ministry, I become more convinced that the only solid reason to give up what I’m able to do as a single lady is if it’s traded for supporting and toiling alongside a brother in Christ entrusted very specifically with his Father’s Kingdom work.

 

On Tomorrow:

“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34

Can I handle being single for the rest of my life? Heavens, no! Can I handle the possibility of being Miss Windham for another decade? Probably not. How about a year? I’d rather not. But what does God require us to steward? Just today. Can I be single up until my head hits the pillow tonight? Certainly. God owns tomorrow and portions me today. I choose not to dwell too much on the “what ifs” and instead focus on today’s allotment of “what nows”.

 

I’ll leave you with a final thought. The road we chose is narrow. The path we walk requires daily taking up a cross. The Savior who leads us asks us to deny ourselves as we follow. We counted the cost and went all in. And what do we get in return? We get life. We get Jesus. It’s well worth it.

Love,

Rachelle

“I think I can’t
But I think You can
I think You can
Gather my insufficienies and
place them in your hands”

-Relient K

When God created marriage, He knew that singleness as a status would eventually result. You can’t have one without the other. With this design, He invaded the human heart. He instilled longings that radiate with stomach flip-flops, quickened pulses, ear to ear smiles, and feet-dragging, gut-wrenching heartbreak. Powerful human emotions behind the God-breathed words of “male and female He created them.” He knew what He was doing. He knew the countless individuals who would both rejoice and suffer in one category or the other, for those that have and have not.  He knew the longing and loss that would produce some of the darkest days for His beloved creatures. And yet He calls it “very good.”

Yes, this bold statement predates the fall, where man and woman would usher in a long, dark road of separation from God. But does that take away from what God established as good? If the highest good is God’s glory on display, even the darkness makes way for the brilliance of the Light of the World. And God’s definition of good is so different than ours. Our natural bent sounds almost Neanderthal: Hard bad. Easy good. But God flips that logic on its head, knowing intimately the human spirit. We need tough. We waste away in easy. And the Life-Giver says that His ultimate purposes are good, for those who love Him.

When it comes to singleness, I want to suggest that there is a question worth asking for every Believer. It’s a hard word, but a good one that can wage war with our primitive tendencies. It’s also revealing. In the midst of the potent emotions God weaved into the human soul, it will reveal how well you subscribe to the goodness of God’s designs. It will potentially challenge you beyond any other earth-journey storms. It’s a simple question, but it might take a lifetime to answer. The worthy inquiry into the human soul is this: What if God ordained that I should be single for the rest of my life?

Take a moment to let that question hang in the air. Breathe in God’s assurance and exhale any apprehension welling up inside of you. For those of us who want marriage or already have it, believing that it is indeed very good, this question can feel like disturbing a wasp nest. Perhaps it’s best to back away slowly. But what if under the nest lies a key to closer intimacy with Christ? Ah, now you must stand still and contemplate.

 

For myself, grappling with this question all the way through my 20’s has been a prominent supplier of growth. It has revealed idols. Idols of marriage, picket-fences, self, security…the list is long. The list is painful. Those wasps won’t let you destroy their intricately-woven domain without a fight.

It has taught me how to serve God irrespective of status. Elisabeth Elliot said, “The secret is Christ in me, not a different set of circumstances.” God’s Kingdom is not made with holding tanks or pause buttons that allow us to relax and wait to serve Him until our situations change. He wants to use us as we are, where we are.

It has taught me to trust that God really does know best. The gift of Singleness isn’t often received with glee, but after a decade of trying to figure out the return policy, I find the state of my heart and soul made healthier and my armor stronger against stinging-winged lies and attacks.

Grappling with the question of permanent singleness has taught me to loosen my grip on my will. “When the will of God crosses the will of man, somebody has to die.” (Also Elliot) And to live is Christ, to die is gain! I believe that more than I did at 20, and it brightens the spotlight on the forever promises that result from taking up our cross to follow Him.

But most importantly, it has produced an intimacy with Christ that I would not sacrifice on the altar of an alternate life, if given the chance. In the quiet moments of hoping and asking, Christ was my most constant companion. In the chaotic seasons of heartbreak and calamity, Jesus offered something better than answers and a thorough life-map. He offered more of Himself.

We don’t often day-dream about our nightmares. If you are married, it’s not appealing to think about the possibility of premature widowhood. If you are single and long for the very good one-ness portrayed in Genesis 1 and 2, it’s not pleasant to consider spouseless decades. But in that hypothetical, God might have some severe mercies to offer. I will finish with one more Elliot quote as you contemplate tough, emotive questions. Keep in mind that she experienced an initial single season in addition to 2 more seasoned with widowhood.

“Single life may be only a stage of a life’s journey, but even a stage is a gift. God may replace it with another gift, but the receiver accepts His gifts with thanksgiving. This gift for this day. The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived—not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.”