Confession: I have a secret wedding/love-themed Pinterest board.
Well, at least it was a secret. There’s no wedding on the horizon. I’m not in a relationship. And, the thing is, I don’t even love weddings that much. I just really really love love. I love love stories and I love the way that two people can become each other’s “person” and become a team that makes both stronger and better somehow. I love how marriage reflects the heart of Jesus like few other things do.
And so, alongside the collection of beautiful places around the world that I want to visit and ideas for interior design that I love, I have slowly amassed a board full of candid wedding and engagement photography and flowers and stunning white dresses. And, unlike my mountain obsession and self-curated collection of photojournalism and fashion inspiration, I’ve kept it hidden.
Mostly because I was embarrassed to be the stereotypical single girl with a wedding Pinterest board. But, also, because it’s often hard for me to admit, both to myself and to others, how deeply I want to be loved and to love in that context. How much I desire to be married. And how confusing and heartbreaking the tension between hoping for something I don’t have and living in the reality of it not being part of my story has sometimes felt.
Because, as much as that is an honest part of my life, it’s not (and will never be!) the main part of my life. As much as it’s a piece of my heart, it is not the thing that captivates my heart the most. I don’t love being single, but I do love my life. I haven’t particularly enjoyed the moments when I’ve felt really alone, but I certainly don’t want to trade away all the ways that God has been faithful and with me and exceedingly good in all of the places I’ve walked in this space of it being “just” me and Jesus.
And, admitting that I myself am part of the problem, I wrestle with how much we talk about this stuff, particularly within the church.
The problem of singleness in the church
I hate how trite and even toxic some of those conversations become. And the last thing I want to do is say or perpetuate anything that makes singleness sound like something to be pitied or marriage something to be idolized. In fact, for many of those reasons, I used to say I would never write a publicly posted blog about relationships or singleness. But you know what they say about saying never.
Because, the reality is: this is real and personal and deep and I have more conversations about this with women — both inside and outside of the church – than about anything else. There are few places where we struggle to trust the goodness of faithfulness of God and the truth of who we are in Him more than this area: sandwiched between trying to graciously and wisely acknowledge the good things that we want without shame, yet keeping our eyes always locked on Jesus and steadfast in our faith that He is completely worthy of all we are, and have, and hope to be – regardless of our status as girlfriend, wife, and/or mother.
We’re caught between competing messages from our culture and the church and the consequent convoluted feelings in our own hearts. Inundated on all sides with the messages of contemporary feminism that tell us to be fiercely independent and to not admit weakness or longing. Told that the institution of marriage is archaic and rooted in the injustice of patriarchy. Told that we can do whatever we want with our bodies and our desires, so why hold back at all?
And then the church. Where, for better or worse, we seem to have a bit of an obsession with pairing people up. Where the conversations about what it means to flourish and thrive as a woman of God rarely finds vernacular outside the confines of being a wife and a mum (which, for the record, are crazy beautiful and hugely important roles!). We throw around cliches and we try to wrap up the nuanced and deep-rooted feelings with neat and tidy bows. We try to force notions of one-dimensional contentment on legitimate (and good!) desires. We’re told to be patient, as if it was a task easily accomplished.
The lingering tension between the truth that marriage is a really beautiful, God-ordained, and God-honouring thing and the absence of that good thing in the lives of many men and women who have surrendered their lives and desires to Jesus is a really hard one to navigate. It’s a hard thing to live well. And it’s a hard thing to talk about well.
No empty promises
Here’s the deal: I know some absolutely amazing, beautiful, passionate, kind, interesting, and creative women love Jesus who are married. And I know some absolutely amazing, beautiful, passionate, kind, interesting, and creative women who love Jesus who are single.
The separation makes no sense to me. Actually, it baffles me.
And, often, in every well-intended effort to be encouraging and kind, we reference the “season” of being single or “waiting” for marriage only as a temporary space. Because we’re even told false platitudes like “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll find someone someday!” or “God has a great guy for you, the timing just isn’t right yet.”
Those things may be true. I so deeply hope they are true. I can’t even tell you how much I hope and pray that you get to trade your Beyonce single-ladies dance moves for the ring and the white dress and a life alongside the one you love. I so badly want to definitively tell you that someday you will get to hold a child of your own in your arms.
But, I can’t guarantee that for you. And I’m sitting in JJ Bean with tears falling down my face because I hate having to type that. And, even in all my own longing and hopeful romantic, yet pre-mature Pinterest dreaming, I certainly can’t guarantee that for myself either.
Jesus never promised us romantic love. He never promised that we’d have all of our desires met this side of eternity. God is an exceedingly good Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children, but it’s not ours to get to designate what those things are.
It’s ours – married or single or wherever we are in-between – to seek Christ. It is ours to rejoice in the reality of His salvation that brought us back to life. To love boldly. To worship passionately. To love our neighbour. And to surrender ourselves completely to Christ: Every hour and every day. The reality is that a life of following Jesus is difficult and beautiful and messy and complicated and still worth more than anything else. He alone is our exceedingly great reward.
But there is no guarantee that faithfulness to him will mean that you will fall in love with someone who loves him too and that you’ll build a life and family together. In fact, it very well may mean that you surrender those things for the sake of remaining fully faithful to Jesus.
It’s okay to want to be married
Can we just agree to be a bit more gracious with ourselves and with each other? It is okay to want to be married. In fact, that’s actually a good thing. The love of God is exceedingly better and more extravagant than the love that any other human can offer us, but it’s not the same. And, before creating Eve, God himself said that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. We were created for relationship and deep community.
And in the absence of something you want, it’s okay to wrestle with the disappointment and the hoping. It’s okay to be sad sometimes and it’s okay to be frustrated sometimes too. It’s okay to be honest with yourself and with other people and it’s okay to pour your heart out in complete honesty before God. The amount of time that God and I have spent in prayer and tears about this topic rivals that of any other. This goes deep in us and the best news is that we have a God who already knows our hearts completely and who loves us extravagantly.
To be content in God does not mean that we have to check our true emotions and thoughts and desires at the door. It actually means that we take all that we are and run hard towards Jesus and live with such a posture as to say, “I may not have all that I want, but in all my brokenness and wanting and weakness, I’m still all in. I choose to find my hope and home and purpose and rooting in You – no matter the circumstances.”
However, in wanting marriage – as with the desire we have for anything good – we need to guard against the thing we want and don’t-yet (or perhaps never will) have becoming the thing that we actually worship. If we desire marriage more than we desire Christ, we have constructed an idol that we need to repent of, dismantle, and surrender before Jesus.
Marriage is not a value-statement
If you hear anything in this, please hear this: Your relationship status has nothing to do with how worthy you are of love.
Your being single doesn’t mean you are any less worthy of love, any less important, or any less significant. You are more than your career or education (or lack thereof). You are more than your family (or lack thereof). And, you are more than the person or people who do (or do not) love you.
Jerry Maguire lied to us. Romantic love does not and will not complete you. You are not half of a whole without a spouse. You are already full and complete. One of my favourite authors, Shauna Niequist, says it this way: you are significant with or without a significant other. Marriage and romantic love is not – and will never be – a solution to the ache that exists in you for Christ himself and for the fullness and hope of eternity. Our hearts are restless until they find their true home and rest in God, not until we fall in love and assume the prefix of Mrs.
Fundamentally, marriage is not the goal: Christ is. For some of us, God will use marriage to point us to Christ and reveal some of God’s deeply personal love for us through the beauty and challenges of marriage. For some, God will use circumstances devoid of romantic love to point to Christ and reveal some of God’s deeply personal love for us through the beauty and challenges of being single. For many of us, God will use both. We each have different stories and circumstances and they constantly change throughout our lives, but the end goal is always the same: Fixing our eyes on Jesus.
Being single isn’t “just fine” or second best
One of my favourite movies is the 2005 romantic comedy, Hitch. It’s cheesy and endearing and hilarious and well, just wonderful. The amount of times I’ve watched that movie is almost embarrassing, but it remains one of my perpetual go-to choices.
There’s a pivotal moment in the love-story of Will Smith and Eva Mendes’ characters when Sarah Melas (Mendes), the guarded independent career-driven woman, says, “Maybe it’s like what you said. That we’ll each go our own ways and we’ll do just fine.” To which the smooth-talking Alex Hitchens (Smith) quickly responds: “What if fine isn’t good enough?”
And as much as that scene makes we want to cheer with its dramatic and romantic resolution, the sentiment is flawed: dangerously flawed. Because, even when it feels like we’re missing out on so many things that come with the partnership, friendship, and romance of marriage and perhaps spending more moments than we want to alone – your life is no less full or wonderful or important or significant if you are single.
I get it. I feel it too. There are a lot of moments when it feels like maybe singleness is missing out. That for whatever reason, we missed the mark for the “good” and we’re stuck living the “good enough.” That maybe – and worst of all – we’re even missing out on an expression of God’s heart. But that’s simply not true. Whether or not you are in a relationship or married or single and loving it or single and struggling with that reality: your life is full and beautiful and significant. Right here. Right now.
We need each other
Remember what I said about living in and talking about this tension being really hard? This is part of why we so badly need each other. Why we need to be open and honest and real with ourselves and with our communities. Why we need both single friends and married friends to walk with us. Why we need to hold each other up on the days that are particularly difficult. Why we need to be quick to listen and willing to sit in the in-between and unknown without trying to find answers or trying to fill the space with empty words. Why we need to celebrate together, not glossing over the hard places, but not letting the hard places diminish any of the beauty either.
And most of all, we need to be bold to remind each other of the gospel: that nothing – and that really means nothing – compares to the gift of knowing and being known by Jesus. We need to let the truth that we are already loved more deeply than language will ever articulate sink deep into all the broken spaces and the deepest dreams. On the days when I hate being single, I don’t need false hope: I just need the assurance of His love. Even if God doesn’t answer prayers the way we may hope that He will: He is still exceedingly good and abundantly generous to us. Even if our stories look different that we may want and even if some of our deepest dreams go unanswered: even then, He is still good.