I have a lot of really great friends who aren't married. Really great. And I often pray for them to meet their spouse. Not because I think they have to or even need to, but because I know they want to. I also have vague recollections of longing for marriage myself. It wasn’t all that long ago that I would be in so-called relationship, break it off, swear off dating, then repeat. It's humbling to admit, but it’s true. That being said, praise God for the sanctification that comes through our flawed, sinful understandings of dating and marriage. Praise him for never leaving us where we are (Phil 1:6) and for people who truly love us well through it all.
And now, years later, when I listen to women struggling with anger, fear or anxiety about wanting so badly to be married, my desire is to always encourage them in a new direction. Yes, being married has great advantages and is an amazing picture of Christ, his church and sacrifice. But on the flip side, being married can also be one of the most difficult and painful processes that people go through. And as Christians, we can be tempted to keep the hardships of marriage a secret. But just like any surgery that cuts you open and makes you a whole new person, marriage is a process of being cut open and sewn back together as one. . .with another sinner.
I often remind my dear friends that pleading with God to have a husband or wife can be like the Israelites pleading with Samuel to ask God for a human king to reign over them.
They had no idea what they were asking for.
"So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, 'You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.' But when they said, 'Give us a king to lead us,' this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: 'Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.' . . . But the people refused to listen to Samuel. 'No!' they said. 'We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.'" 1 Samuel 8:4-9, 19-20
How often do we think we know what is best for our lives? How often do we pray for specific things only to be disappointed when God moves us in a totally different way? How often have we "pleaded for a king” only to feel rejected by God?
It’s like a kid who begs for a puppy. Do they seriously want a puppy? Yes. Do they have grand visions of what it will be like to have the puppy, play with the puppy and be best friends with the puppy? Yes. But when reality sets in that they have to get up every morning to walk the puppy, pick up the puppy’s poop, and feed the puppy, they eventually realize it’s harder than they thought it would be.
Or, how often do we think we know what is best for those who are single and project our personal or worldly perspective on them rather than pointing them to God's Word? How often do we push friends who are single to date someone, believing that what we have is best? Are we propelling a marriage-driven culture rather than a godly-driven culture?
How hard it is to understand that God really does love us and knows exactly what we need in every situation. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground outside of our Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows!” (Mt 10: 29-31).
Well thank you, I’m more important than a bunch of birds, awesome. The point is, if He cares that much for birds, how much more must He care for the ones He sacrificed his very life for?
As we continue to talk about how we can love both our single and married friends well, know this: one way married couples can love their single friends is by being honest about marriage. I don’t mean scare them out of a God-centered engagement, but help them understand what Paul is really saying when he says it is good for the unmarried and widows to stay unmarried as Paul was (1 Cor 7).
Making marriage sound like a constant romantic holiday is not helpful. Reality is helpful because it allows the gospel to be the gospel.
Whether God is calling you to be single or be married, He is calling you first to love, worship and serve him. If you can do that best by being married, He will take care of that detail. If, however, you can do that best as a single man or woman, then allow God to be God . . . because there is absolutely nothing better than God being God. He’s perfect. He’s gracious. He’s kind. He loves fully. And his plan for your life is better than your own.
Single friends, what is your hope for getting married? What do you really want by longing for marriage? What do you think will change in your life by being married? What desires do you want to fulfill by being married? Are there places in your heart that are not trusting God to love you in the best way possible? If so, why do you not trust Him? In what ways do you need to learn more about God’s character and seek Him in relationship so those desires are met in Christ alone (and so this can be more than a pretty, little phrase that we say)?
Married friends, are you honest with how marriage truly is? Do you put up a front to make your marriage look prettier than it actually is? When things are hard in your marriage, are you sharing it with others as a picture of how the gospel applies during hardships? Are you being humble to admit that you are sinful in your marriage? This is not a thought process to decapitate your spouse, but to admit the reality of your own sin and needed change before God and others.
Ask each other these questions! Let's have a community with open dialogue and encouragement towards one another as we discover the comfort offered through God's Word, whether single or married.
Rebekah Hannah is a biblical counselor at The Grace Center for Biblical Counseling in Jacksonville, Florida. She is married to Andrew and has three daughters.