“Sweet sixteen, never been kissed! Get over here, Mr. Taft!”
My face turned bright red as Andrew Taft made his way over to where I was seated. Having found out about the significance of October 15, 2003, my Bible teacher Mr. Deutsch had taken it upon himself to invade my sophomore history class with a parade of other students behind him. I wanted to shrink down into a puddle on the floor and disappear due partly to the embarrassing truth in those words and partly due to the fact that I was an attention evading introvert.
Thankfully, my male classmate only ended up taking my right hand and planting a kiss gentleman style just above the knuckles. Given the purely platonic status of our relationship and my inexperience in that department, it was definitely a preferable gesture to a smooch anywhere on my face! Thereafter, Andrew only brought it up in jest a few times to remind me who gave me my first “kiss”, but the memory sticks out as a good representation of a time when I had no idea what direction my life would take, romantically, spiritually, or otherwise.
I remember hoping that not too many more birthdays would go by before that opening line and the status it represented would no longer be true. Praise God that He chooses to shield us from hard truths before we are ready to face them! You see, had you revealed to me on my sixteenth birthday that ten years later I would still be just as single and still just as unaware of what it is like to hold hands with a special someone, let alone kiss one, the sheer weight of that reality may have literally turned me into that puddle on the floor of my history class that memorable day!
At this point, you may be wondering, “What is wrong with this girl? Not even so much as a date and she is in her mid-twenties?” Or maybe you are thinking, “Prince charming is not coming. Revise your standards or embrace a lonely existence with cats!” I am not going to defend myself from either camp, as it is quite possible that there is some truth in there somewhere. I guess you will just have to befriend me and decide for yourself. However, as children of God, I hope we can all at least agree that He is the Master Orchestrator and wills circumstances despite our deficiencies. Plus, I am allergic to cats, so that outcome is out of the question!
My point in starting out with my story is to become a little vulnerable with you as the reader and to show how the seeds of passion for the topic of singleness were sown. As a single young woman with a desire for marriage and prayers consistently answered with a gentle and loving “No” from my Savior, I am faced with two options: wallow in bitterness, Ben and Jerry’s, and romcoms (for my parents’ generation, that is short for Romantic Comedies) or invest in allergy medication so I can start my feline collection, fully embracing my hermit destined future with a potential cameo appearance on the reality show “Hoarders”. I am completely kidding, of course. There is a third option and, quite frankly, the only option worth choosing for a daughter of the King. Behind door number three, I see a girl who recognizes that her life is not about her. I see a girl with the conviction to truly believe that, despite feelings that threaten to sweep her away with the tide, she can use whatever circumstances she is given to glorify her Savior and make much of Him. I see a girl who refuses the “holding tank until marriage” mentality and strives to serve God and grow now, not because she’s trying to attract a mate but because she loves her Lord and is motivated by His loving message to her. I see a girl that I desperately want to be; one that is infinitely more appealing than any other option. She is not always the one staring at me in the mirror, but every once in a while I see glimpses of her. In her, with her “gentle and quiet spirit”[i], I see what God calls beautiful.
Her way of looking at life and love is a message that the modern church desperately needs to hear. Single, married, man or woman, in a place of ministry or a place in a congregation, we are all members of the same body, offering our own God-given experiences and skill sets. Therefore, we rely on one another in bringing good news to a hopeless, purposeless, superficial, broken world. If any part of a message, however subtle, is taking away from that mission, one must not turn a blind eye. I am speaking specifically about our message to single people, young and old.
I will give you an example of one such message. As a younger girl, particularly in junior high and high school, I remember receiving many purity talks from well-meaning pastors, authors, and mentors, and it is a message I still hear today in my mid-twenties. It goes something like this:
After explaining what the Bible has to say about sexual immorality, there is usually a line or two about how “giving your heart and body away now is not a good idea because it will take away from your marriage relationship with your future spouse.” Then inevitably, there is a statement about becoming the kind of spouse a Believer of the opposite sex would want to pursue and marry. Occasionally, there would also be encouragement to start praying for your future spouse, filling up journal pages that they can read one day, or knitting matching scarves that you can wear one day. I am kidding about that last one, by the way, but you get the idea, and if you grew up in westernized church culture, you know exactly what I am talking about.
In thinking about these angles in encouraging young Believers to remain pure and honor God with their bodies, what is a large assumption that stands out to you? You see, no one told me that I could end up single for a long time, possibly for the rest of my life. The assumption relayed in relationship talks from the pulpit always gave an underlying “When, not If” message.
Now, a challenge: look through Scripture and find me a verse that guarantees marriage for faithful Christ followers. Read line by line and verse by verse and you will discover that no such verse exists. We are promised many other things, some pleasant and some we will call “refining.” The unshakable love of our Heavenly Father through Christ[ii], but not wedded bliss. Persecution, trials, sacrifice[iii], but not matrimony. A future hope[iv], the sealing of the Holy Spirit[v], that God will work all things together for our good and His glory[vi]…the list goes on and on. Glorious, beautiful, life changing promises that grace the pages of Scripture, but not one of them speak of a day in our life on earth where the sun will be shining as friends and family gather to witness you and that special someone commit “till death do us part.” No promises about the clinking of champagne glasses as the best man clears his throat to deliver a heart-warming speech or the gleeful scene as you and your new spouse are whisked away into the sunset to begin your life together as one.
Now, do not misunderstand me. Marriage is a beautiful thing. It is an amazing picture of love and sacrifice meant to portray Christ’s love for His church to the world. It is a relationship that deserves honor, a joyful bond worth preserving and cherishing. It is the foundation upon which society is built! Those whom God wills to marry are blessed indeed, and the majority of our church-going youths will stand at an altar one day with their sweetheart. But for the minority that will not, are we setting them up for disappointment and disillusionment by placing expectations in their minds at an early age? Furthermore, are we giving marriage a status God never intended, thereby affecting the theology of everyone, matrimony bound or otherwise? You see, even subtle ideas can help shape an outlook on an aspect of life.
When I look back on my own life as a single lady, I see different moments where there was contention between the Lord and me because I desired marriage and He was not providing anyone. The man I had prayed for since adolescence was nowhere in sight. What about my faithfulness and purity? Were not those qualities supposed to give off some sort of spiritual pheromone to reel in Mr. Right?
Deep down, if I was honest, my real question was directed at God Himself: “Are not you pleased enough with my life to give me what I want?” This audacious question was not created overnight. Instead, it was the culmination of a series of events.
Growing up attending church and youth group in addition to having the privilege of attending a Christian school, I was able to hear a lot about marriage and dating from Biblical perspectives. I still vividly remember the illustration of Bob and Betty on their bobsled, making their way down the slippery slope in a dating relationship. I remember a chapel speaker who shouted for a while about the importance of purity, only to succeed in making his teenage audience squirm over his choice descriptions about physical intimacy. I also remember statistics. Stats about teen pregnancy, STD’s, condom failure, marriage dissatisfaction for couples who did not want to wait, etc.
Those facts and illustrations, while true and attention grabbing, did not get to the heart of the matter. Behavior modification can only go so far. When a future relationship with a person that has no meaning to me now is the motivation to honor God, this generation with its desire for immediate satisfaction and “follow your heart” mentality will fail most of the time. What is needed is a more Gospel-centered message. I wish I had been encouraged more to taste and see that Christ is better than anything. I wish someone would have been there in my adolescent years to emphasize that marriage is not the end-all of life, but instead a temporary status that does not exist in eternity. I wish there would have been more conversations that dove into Paul’s philosophy on why singleness is just as good as marriage and for some, it is better! When those puzzle pieces are put in place, Christ “who is your life ”[vii] makes all other earthly relationships and goals pale in comparison, and therefore reestablishes marriage in its intended position in God’s created plan.
In my experience and probably for many of you, singleness is portrayed as a burden. Even when it is called a gift, there is often sarcasm behind the spoken words. Perhaps like me, not wanting to be one of the few that would receive such a “gift”, you decided to assume you would be one of the 9 out of 10 who would hurdle over poor mister or miss unlucky number 10 to snag a matrimonial victory. Or maybe you have held onto or used this common phrase: “If God puts a desire in your heart, He will eventually fulfill it.” I had a recent conversation with a girl who truly believed that in regards to marriage, but something not written on the pages of Scripture can be dangerous to believe.
The common denominator in all of these mindsets is quite possibly fear. It could be fear of loneliness, fear of missing out on the benefits of marriage, fear of perpetual rejection by the opposite sex, fear of growing old with no children to take care of you, or a fear of being viewed as incomplete by others. One I had not thought of until recently is a fear of having your sexual orientation questioned. In discussing her singleness, a dear friend of mine was recently asked by her father if she even liked men!
This first post is the start of a 6-8 week discussion. If you, too, are afraid of singleness, you need to keep reading! If you are in a position now or could be one day of counseling someone who is single, then please keep reading and help me in dispelling some of the untruths that have infected the mainstream evangelical church. If you are neither of those, but want to broaden your view on singleness, marriage or the Gospel, please continue to join me in my pursuit of the attitude behind that Door Number Three that I mentioned earlier. In the coming weeks, I aim to shape how we all see singleness in light of God’s Word and for those who are single now, how we can joyfully thrive in that status and combat the holding-tank-until-marriage mentality. My ultimate goal with this blog is to show that our lives do not belong to us, but to Christ. His Kingdom needs to matter more to us than building any kind of earthly kingdom, even if that “kingdom” resembles the innocent picture of a troop of happy, giggling children surrounding a loving mother and father in the midst of a cozy, picket-fenced house.
…Stay tuned for next week’s post, titled “Marriage for Everyone”
–>LINK FOR NEXT POST IN SERIES: https://notsingledout.com/category/6-week-singleness-series/week-2/
ps. Thanks for reading!!! 🙂
[i] 1 Peter 3:3-4
[ii] Romans 8:38-39
[iii] Luke 21:12
[iv] Romans 8:22-25
[v] Ephesians 1:13
[vi] Romans 8:28
[vii] Colossians 3:4